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.
A Sheltered, Strict Childhood continued...
By age 13, Dawn was making threats to kill herself. She went into
counseling, but things didn't get better, her mother says. By age 14, she was
seeing a psychiatrist and was diagnosed with depression.
There was something else no one suspected. Dawn had begun cutting herself.
"I'd never heard of cutting," she says. "I thought I'd made it up.
For me, it was something that I thought might make me feel better. It was like,
I'm going to do this and see what happens."
Hiding the Cuts
In the beginning, she didn't cut herself very often, Dawn explains. "I
started to see it was making me feel better, so I kept doing it. I would do it
in the bathroom at school... hiding in a stall during lunch time. I used a paper
clip that I would sharpen with a file. I just did a lot of little shallow cuts...
I didn't want to need stitches. I hid it for so long because I never needed
Dawn was hiding her cuts under long-sleeved clothes, another clue that no
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
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
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."