Cutting and Self Harm: We Can Help

Our toll-free Boys Town National Hotline, 1-800-448-3000, serves as a crisis helpline for people all over the country. Each year, our highly trained counselors answer more than 150,000 calls from people with problems ranging from depression and drugs to anger and abuse. Through YourLifeYourVoice.org, our counselors also respond to emails and discussion board posts from teens.

Over the past few years, we have noticed an increase in the number of communications regarding self-harm behaviors. In 2007, we received 696 contacts from individuals whose primary issue was self harm. In 2011, that number nearly trippled to 2,052.

The Hotline also handles hundreds of questions each year from people who are in crisis over relationships or mental health issues, and for whom self harm is the secondary focus.

Regardless of whether self harm is a primary or secondary reason for calling, a large number of these callers are children and teens. Consider these Hotline statistics:

  • 79 percent of self-harm callers are under 18
  • 9 percent of self-harm callers are between 19 and 23 
  • 85 percent of self-harm callers are female 
  • Females who are 18 or younger make up 67 percent of all self-harm callers

Parents need to understand that self harm is not necessarily a suicide attempt. Typically, people intentionally injure themselves as a way to cope with other crises in their lives. Kids and teens need to find better ways to deal with these situations. One way is to call our Hotline because someone there is always ready to help.

How do Hotline counselors comfort self-harm callers and help them cope?

  • They praise them for taking the first step and talking about their issue (self-harm and cutting). Many times, these people are in the midst of a crisis, which is when they typically will cause self harm. 
  • They de-escalate the immediate crisis.  Counselors  work with the individual to help him or her identify alternative coping skills, which can include doing some deep breathing with the caller, having the caller write down his or her feelings in a journal, or having the caller engage in physical activity.  The main focus is to determine what works best for the caller. 
  • They assess any current safety issues:  Has the caller already self-harmed? Does he or she need  medical attention?

Once counselors have comforted self-harm callers, what strategies do they offer? 

  • They help them identify an emotional support system they have in place.  This involves having at least two people (friends, family members, a therapist, Hotline counselors) the person can call and talk to before self-harming.
  • They have them create a list of at least 10 things they can do instead of self harm. 
  • They ask them to get rid of all the things they might use to harm themselves (razors, knives, lighters, etc.). 
  • They help them understand that it is okay to feel uncomfortable, scared, and frustrated. 
  • They help them understand that they can endure the thought of wanting to injure themselves without actually doing it. 
  • They encourage them to express their feelings in writing (poetry, journaling, etc.), on sites such as YourLifeYourVoice.org.

We also encourage self-harmers to contact us if they feel like they are going to hurt themselves. We stress to them the importance of calling us or someone in their support system before they self harm.

If you need help with self harm and cutting, or know someone who does, call the Boys Town National Hotline toll free at 1-800-448-3000.  We also offer referrals to local programs that help people with self-harm issues and can provide information on treatment options.

To find out more about cutting, read the article, Understanding Teen Cutting and Self-Injury, an excellent resource that explains self-injurious behavior, risk factors, signs, and what to do.