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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