Cutting Special Needs Factsheet
What Teachers Should Know
Cutting is a form of self-injury that affects many teens and preteens. Cutting is when someone uses a sharp object to purposely mark, cut, or scratch the body enough to cause bleeding.
People typically cut themselves on their wrists, forearms, thighs, or belly. They might use a razor blade, knife, scissors, a metal tab from a soda can, the end of a paper clip, a nail file, or a pen. Some people burn their skin with the end of a cigarette or lighted match.
Cutting is not a suicide attempt. But even when suicide is not the goal, cutting can still cause severe injury or death.
Cutting can be a sign of emotional distress. Teens cut for many different reasons:
- Most teens who cut are struggling with powerful emotions and cutting is a visible way to respond to pressures.
- It can start as an impulsive behavior and become an addictive one.
- Cutting can provide a sense of relief and may increase the release of endorphins (“feel-good” hormones).
- Some teens who cut are also struggling with other urges, obsessions, or compulsive behaviors.
- A teen might give in to group pressure to try cutting as a way to seem cool or bold, to belong, or to avoid bullying.
- Cutting provides a sense of control over other things teens can’t control. Even though it’s painful, it’s a self-inflicted pain that teens can feel like they’re controlling.
Regardless of the reasons, cutting and other self-harm can lead to serious injuries from bleeding and infection.
Students who cut may:
- hide marks on their body and, if the marks are noticed, make excuses for them
- seem depressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, and get angry or upset if confronted about cutting
- miss class time due to injuries or infections caused by cutting
- miss class time to see therapists or school counselors
- need additional time to complete class assignments and homework
What Teachers Can Do
For many teens and preteens, cutting is a sign that they are dealing with emotional distress or mental illness. While some teens call attention to their cuts, others will hide them out of shame. Many teens cut for a long time before anyone else knows.
If you suspect that your student is engaging in cutting or other self-harm, talk with a school counselor, school psychologist, school nurse, or principal about how to deal with the situation before confronting the student yourself.
You can help your student by:
- providing additional time for class and homework assignments
- encouraging activities in class that help improve self-esteem
- being supportive, and encouraging the student to talk with a mental health professional (if the student confides in you)
Reviewed by: Rupal Christine Gupta, MD
Date reviewed: August 2014