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More than a teenage thing

Updated: Mar 21, 2020

My journey as a clinical social worker has taken me to work in different fields such as community agencies, health care and in the educational system. In all three areas I have focused my attention on the pediatric population. The last two years have I have worked with adolescents. Depression and anxiety are serious illnesses that can impair a teenager's functioning. At times due to their age and psycho-social history it's difficult for them to cope with the symptoms. One of the maladaptive coping skills I have encountered is the self-cutting behavior. This one of many self-destructive behaviors. It is important that mental health professionals, parents, teachers and adults know some signs or warnings about self-cutting behaviors.


I have been exposed to self-cutting behaviors more than I wished, because it's one of the common "coping skills" used among teenagers. Some teenagers that engage in self-cutting can experience symptoms of Major Depression Disorder, and related anxiety disorders, like Social Anxiety, PTSD, Acute Stress, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. There is always one or more reasons for adolescents to engage in self-cutting behaviors. Based on my experience it's not primarily to seek attention. Teenagers that engaged in self-cutting are evidently in need of support. He or she is trying to communicate that need.


As a trusted adult you might want to explore if your teen is experiencing a change appetite and sleep. Your teen might be more irritable and losing interest in activities they used to enjoy. Hopelessness or excessive worrying are other signs that your adolescent might be experiencing depression or anxiety. You might want to know if they are spending time with friends or family members, or isolating themselves. These are just a few behaviors or symptoms that can help you figure out what is happening to your teenager.


If you notice several of the behaviors and symptoms described above then look out for the following signs. If you see that your adolescent suddenly is wearing long sleeves, it might be an indication that he or she is self-cutting in their arms. Even more if your teen is wearing warm clothes during warm or hot weather. Along with this sign you will see that your teen is constantly pulling their sleeves down. Another signal is that your teenager is constantly isolated in their room, avoids conversations and any interaction where you might notice their arms or wrists.

There are other parts in their bodies to look for marks of self-cutting, like their thighs, legs, and stomach. Pay attention to any sudden change in your child or teenager. You might say, "they change all the time" ? Yes, but just like you know when your child is sick you will can also notice if your teenager is mentally or emotionally ill.


Self-cutting behavior is a serious self-destructive behavior among teenagers. Some of the symptoms and behaviors are usually related to depressive and anxiety disorders. Remember to notice any change in their behavior, such as wearing warm clothes during warm or hot weather. There are ways to help your teen, so look forward to my next article about how to help your teen when engaging in self-cutting behaviors.

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