Struggling with Self-Harm

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

I am 17 years old and have been struggling with self harm for about 3 or 4 years. I was bullied when I was younger which was left me very sensitive to criticism. The self harm started when I had a bad day at school or when I was simply feeling down. Lately, the … sadness has been getting worse and I wonder if I am depressed. I have days of deep sadness to the extent I don’t want to leave my house or bed but these never last longer than 3 or 4 days. I have good days, where I feel fine but the general moods I experience are disappointment, sadness and boredness with my life. But I read accounts where people who have depression just hate everything all the time and want to die constantly. I’m not like that so I feel like I am wasting time worrying about this and its probably just normal mood swings. The cutting helps with the sadness but now I also cut for the adrenaline rush of it all. To help me not only when I am feeling numb but if I am the slightest bit unfulfilled or worried in some way. My cuts are never too deep and I don’t have any permanent scarring so its not too worrying. My sister seen my cuts once and jokingly asked if I was cutting myself. I feel if I told them how I felt they wouldn’t believe me and just think I’m a moody teenager despite the fact my father suffered from depression for a long period of his life. Do you think I need help or is this something I will grow out of?

A. At first, you self-injured on an infrequent basis, but lately it’s been more often. Your sadness lasts for a much longer periods of time. You have been dealing with these problems for the past several years, and they seem to be getting worse not better.

In my experience, people cut for several reasons. Some people do not have the necessary coping skills for dealing with strong emotions. Sometimes people cut to punish themselves. If they make a mistake, they may blame themselves and feel that it is necessary to suffer.

People who cut also typically don’t have a high opinion of themselves. They may feel worthless and believe that they deserve to suffer. Other people do it because they are emotionally numb and the pain from the physical sensation of cutting is temporarily stimulating. There are of course other reasons.

But the reasons why people cut are less important than is learning how to change the behavior. Fundamentally, cutting is a maladaptive response to emotional problems.

I can’t provide a diagnosis over the Internet but depression seems like a reasonable possibility. An in-person interview with a mental health professional could assist you in determining if you have depression.

I also don’t believe that your problems are something that you will necessarily “grow out of.” I say that primarily because your symptoms have not improved. Spending three or four days in bed in a deep state of sadness is not a normal part of being a teenager. We all feel sadness from time to time, but what you are experiencing is outside the normal range of sadness.

Rest assured that with the proper treatment, your symptoms can be remedied. Depression is a common mental health disorder that is successfully treated with psychotherapy and medication. My recommendation is to talk to your parents and ask for their help. They can assist you in choosing a qualified mental health professional. Please take care.

Dr. Kristina Randle

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 12 May 2014

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2014). Struggling with Self-Harm. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 1, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2014/05/12/struggling-with-self-harm/