Sunday, August 24, 2008

Cutting versus Suicide by Sue Scheff

Parents may initially wonder if their teen is cutting to attempt suicide; after all, some suicide attempts look very similar. Parents who see scars on their teen’s arms before they are aware that their teen is cutting can easily be lead to this conclusion, but typically, teens who cut are not trying to kill themselves. Cuts from self injurers are typically much more superficial than cuts from an attempted suicide. There may be many smaller cuts on a cutter, whereas a suicide attempt would more likely yield fewer deep cuts and fewer scars. Cutters do not typically want to die, just to express their pain in some way other than verbally. Still, cutting has obvious dangers that should not be ignored.

First and foremost there is still the danger your teen can go too far with cutting. A vein or artery can be hit by accident causing major blood loss, which can kill your teen if they cannot stop the bleeding quick enough. Your teen may also develop a serious infection to the site of their cuts, which can in turn infect their bloodstream and weaken their immune system. They can also contract a blood borne illness if they share cutting implements with friends or do not properly clean implements after using them. Cutting among friends may seem like a stretch, but is becoming increasingly common, much like ‘epidemic’ drug use that is shared among friends and peers. Sharing cutting implements increase your teen’s risk of contracting diseases like hepatitis and HIV, which can be a death sentence in themselves. Failure to properly clean instruments used in cutting can lead to the development of tetanus in your teen, which while usually vaccinated for can still develop if vaccinations are not kept up to date, and can even be fatal if not treated in time.

Even if your teen successfully stops cutting, he or she may experience lingering physical affects of the disorder which may continue to complicate life long after the cutting has ended. The most superficial of these complications is scarring. While scars will most likely not cause any future health threats, your teen will have to live with the physical reminder of his or her cutting years every day of his or her life. These scars can complicate any number activities and social experiences, especially when people who are unaware of your teen’s previous cutting notice the scars. Your teen may be faced with uncomfortable questions, and may have trouble answering them. Scars left behind from cutting can often act as a reminder of the pain your teen endured to prompt them to cut in the first place, and while plastic surgery can often hide these scars; there are many cases when it cannot.

There can also be long-term effects of any illnesses that cutters may contract, from sharing implements or not properly cleaning implements used only by your teen.

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