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Self-Injury: One Family's Story

A mother and daughter tell their story about self-harm and how they finally got the strength to get help.

Hiding the Cuts continued...

Dawn was hiding her cuts under long-sleeved clothes, another clue that no one noticed.

At one point, Dawn mentioned the cutting to a psychiatrist, who shrugged it off as "typical adolescence," she says. That left Dawn with a clear message, "I didn't think there was anything wrong with it. The more upset I got, the more I would do it. By the time I was 16, I was doing it almost every day."

But Deb suspected that things weren't right with her daughter. She began reading Dawn's diary. In it, she found drawings that showed deep sadness. She found one drawing of cutting marks on a person's arms, and she knew that person was her daughter.

"As a mother, you don't want to think your child is that unhappy ... it just boggled my mind," Deb tells WebMD. "Even when I saw clues that something was wrong, I would push them away." But she did some reading about self-harm and cutting. Then she confronted her daughter, as well as her daughter's therapist.

Everything came to head - with Dawn finally admitting that she was cutting herself. The therapist pulled out of the case, saying she didn't feel comfortable handling it. Deb kept her daughter home from school the next day. "I sat at the phone, and made a gazillion phone calls in this area to find someone who helps with self-injury. From a local therapist, thank God, I found the SAFE (Self Abuse Finally Ends) Alternatives program."

Getting Treatment

Dawn spent a week as an inpatient at SAFE Alternatives, located in Naperville, Ill. The program provides both inpatient and outpatient treatment for self-injurers. For the rest of her junior year, she was treated on an outpatient basis - taking high school classes at the hospital, while also getting counseling. A van picked her up at home in the morning and brought her home at night.

For her senior year, Dawn went back to her old high school. "That was major," Deb says. "Through the gossip trail, people knew. It was very hard for her to face, but she did it. She graduated with her class. She did very well."

Deb has seen big changes in her daughter. What's helped most, Dawn says, is learning to understand why she was injuring herself. "Now that I can, like, identify what makes me want to do it, it makes it easier to do other things and not do it. I can see the warning signs, like when I start to isolate myself, so I can stop the cycle before it starts."

Deb and her daughter have had many heart-to-heart talks. "I've told her, 'You shouldn't be embarrassed, you should be proud -- proud for all you've been through. You're a tremendous human being. You should view yourself from afar, give yourself a lot of credit for that instead of beating yourself up.'"

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