Cutting

Wrists being bandagedCutting is the most common form of deliberate self-harm, and may co-occur with other self-injurious behaviors such as skin-burning, hair-pulling, and anorexia. People who cut themselves may cut their skin with razors, pointed metal, or other sharp objects. Cutting is not typically an attempt at suicide or long-term self-harm. Rather, it is an immediate reaction to stress that provides release for the person who cuts. However, chronic cutting can lead to serious health problems such as infection, disease transmission, and blood loss. People who cut themselves may accidentally sever a vein or artery, which can be life-threatening.

Is Cutting a Mental Illness?

Cutting is not listed in the DSM-IV as a mental health diagnosis, but it may be related to other impulse control conditions such as pyromania (obsession with fires), kleptomania (persistent stealing), and/or pathological gambling. The DSM-IV lists self-injurious behavior as a symptom of stereotypic movement disorder, which is often diagnosed along with autism and mental retardation. Self-harm can also be a symptom of borderline personality (BPD) as well as factitious disorders, which occur when a person fakes an illness or believes he/she has an illness he/she does not actually have. People who cut themselves may also suffer from depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other stress-related conditions. Cutting is more prevalent among women, particularly during puberty.

Non-suicidal self-injury is a proposed mental health diagnosis for the forthcoming DSM-V. The proposal for this diagnosis requires at least two of the following symptoms:

  • Interpersonal or other stress that precipitates the self-injurious behavior
  • A strong urge to harm oneself and a preoccupation with self-harm prior to the act
  • Frequent thoughts of self-injury
  • Engaging in self-harm to relieve stress
  • The belief that self-harm relieves psychological pain

Treatment to Stop Cutting

Outpatient therapy using a variety of methods, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy, can be highly effective at teaching people more effective skills for coping with stress. However, cutting is a behavior that tends to escalate to more severe and more frequent cutting over time. People who have been cutting for an extended period of time may require inpatient treatment. Inpatient treatment ensures that the person who cuts cannot harm his or herself. Inpatient treatment generally also provides group therapy, individual therapy, and, when necessary, psychotropic medication to help mitigate the psychological factors that contribute to cutting.

References:

  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2012, May 1). American Psychiatric Association DSM-5 Development. Proposed Revision: Non-Suicidal Self Injury. Retrieved from http://www.dsm5.org/ProposedRevisions/Pages/proposedrevision.aspx?rid=443
  2. Davis, J. L. (n.d.). Cutting & Self-Harm: Warning Signs and Treatment. WebMD. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/features/cutting-self-harm-signs-treatment.

Last Updated: 03-20-2018

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  • akyah

    akyah

    October 22nd, 2014 at 6:27 AM

    i wanna stop cutting but i dont know how my mom wants it to stop but i cant its to hard and my brothers and sisters say i do it cuz i want atetoin

  • DML

    DML

    November 2nd, 2014 at 8:06 PM

    I am not sure of your situation. My daughter did the same thing as a parent it is scary. Your doing nothing wrong. You just need help to develop the tools to deal with the real underlying issues. My daughter went to therapy to help identify what was causing her to feel so helpless. Let me know if I can help and I would also be willing to talk to your mom ans share my experiences. I hope it helps.

  • yuuki

    yuuki

    February 7th, 2017 at 8:14 AM

    I don’t think I’m depressed and I’ve never had any traumatic experience but after my exams I had this urge to cut myself. I guess it was out of curiosity. Afterwards I ended up getting that urge again and again and I ended up doing it again. I don’t understand why.

  • Anominus

    Anominus

    May 7th, 2017 at 1:48 PM

    I have been cutting for two years now theire r some moths we’re I cut daily it’s been going on for a long time now yet I’m still to scared to get help

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

    May 7th, 2017 at 8:07 PM

    Thank you for your comment, Anominus. We wanted to provide links to some resources that may be relevant to you here. We have more information about self harm at https://www.goodtherapy.org/therapy-for-self-harm.html and additional information about what to do in a crisis at https://www.goodtherapy.org/in-crisis.html

    Warm regards,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • dianna

    dianna

    April 21st, 2018 at 11:41 PM

    i used to be a cutter. at one point in my cutting i was actually sewing up my cuts. i don’t know how i stopped. i am in my 50’s now and i did this as a teen and also in my 30s.
    recently i have started picking. i had some scrapes and picked at them until i had to have surgery and the abscesses i had caused drained.
    they sent me to a wound clinic after and i can tell that the people working there are disgusted by what i did to myself.
    i kept doing it because i had no idea how skin healing worked. i was thinking the little white things in my wounds and around the edges should not be there. i would pick them out and then they would bleed a lot. it got so bad i was cutting off pieces of flesh and throwing away paper towels full of blood.
    finally my boyfriend saw one of my wounds that had become infected and called ems. so i ended up in hospital and now wound clinic.
    if you feel like cutting or picking at your skin for any reason, tell someone first. see how they react. it rapidly become embarrassing and ugly and it made me sick with infection.
    i thought i had stopped but i just changed my method.

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