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In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of adolescents who engage self- injurious behavior. This behavior is intended to relieve anxiety or depression and to regain a sense of control of their environment.  As we answer more calls from teens or concerned adults, it is important for us to understand this alarming behavior.  Here are some things to keep in mind. 

Self injurious behavior:

  • is not intended to be life threatening or a suicidal gesture.
  • is intended to relieve overwhelming feelings of anxiety or depression.
  • is usually done secretly.
  • is performed with a variety of objects including razorblades, scissors, pen caps, paperclips or erasers.
  • is usually performed on the upper arms or upper legs.
  • causes little or no pain as the injury is inflicted.
  • can be planned or impulsive.
  • is rewarding because of the rush of endorphins which cause a feeling of wellbeing immediately following the cutting thus relieving the anxiety or depression.
  • Includes hair pulling, burning, picking at wounds or skin, and biting.

Warning signs include finding bloody objects in the trash, long time spent in the bath or bedroom especially following school, secretive behavior, and a history of emotional problems.

The appropriate treatment for this behavior is psychotherapy and psychopharmacology. The appropriate referral is to a mental health professional who specializes in the treatment of anxiety or depression in teens. Of course we should always ask if the caller is suicidal as well as self injurious, but generally these problems do not occur together.


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