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Cutting and other self-mutilation practices aren't suicide attempts, experts say

May 23, 2011|By Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • People who cut themselves aren't trying to kill themselves, experts say.
People who cut themselves aren't trying to kill themselves, experts… (iStockphoto.com )

Honolulu — Teenagers and adults who cut or physically mutilate themselves have attracted more attention from psychiatrists in the past decade as the prevalence of such behavior has increased. Accumulating experience treating these patients, as well as better research, is altering the way experts view cutting, according to information presented last week at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Assn.

Previously, self-mutilation -- which can include cutting, scratching or burning -- was considered a possible sign that a patient may be at higher risk of suicide. That is no longer the prevailing wisdom, said Dr. David Shaffer,  a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at Columbia University in New York.

“All the evidence shows self-mutilation is not a suicide attempt,” Shaffer said. “But these people have been getting admitted to a psychiatric hospital … for what is essentially a benign condition.”

Research shows that cutting and other self-mutilation induce a mood change. It seems to help the individual vent feelings of anxiety, stress, pressure or anger, according to the Cornell Research Program on Self-Injurious Behavior in Adolescents and Young Adults. The person cutting may be trying to distract herself or communicate needs.
 
“It's a behavior in which you recognize an abnormal mood and you are trying to regulate it yourself,” Shaffer said.
“It's a rather primitive way of doing it. But deaths from cutting are minuscule. It is not a valid way to try to commit suicide.”
 
According to the Cornell program, 12% to 24% of young people have self-injured.

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