When Scab-Picking, Cutting Becomes Addictive
Many adolescents practice self-harm in an attempt to cope with pressure or emotions.
Whether cutting, burning, head banging, scratching, and even
scab picking, growing numbers of adolescents are hurting themselves. In fact,
the latest statistics show that as many as 3 million people -- mainly
adolescents -- practice self-harm.
And "the rates certainly seem to be increasing," says
David S. Rosen, MD, MPH, chief of the section of teenage and young adult health
in the department of pediatrics at the University of Michigan Health Systems in
"We live in a more stressful world; people's behaviors are
more infectious because of the Internet and instantaneous communication, and we
recognize [self-harm] much more than we have in the past."
While doctors are getting better at recognizing it, treatment
is still evolving, experts tell WebMD.
Why Do Young People Harm Themselves?
Actress Angelina Jolie has talked openly about how she once cut
herself to express pain. The movie Thirteen, which was written by a
13-year-old girl, highlighted cutting. In it a 13-year-old girl is transformed
from a well-behaved honor student into a rebellious member of her school's
According to many experts, self-harm is not necessarily
attention-seeking behavior. Most agree that self-harm is a way of coping with
feelings that the individual has difficulty controlling or expressing.
"If you think about youth suicide, which 15 years ago was
heavily portrayed in the media, it did seem as though media representations
increased rates of that behavior, so if that is a model, then a lot of media
attention to [self-harm] could, in fact, increase the likelihood that someone
might try this if she is feeling bad," he says.
What Is Self-Harm?
Cutting is overwhelmingly the most common type of self-harm,
but some people bang their head, some people stick themselves with pins and
needles, and some people scratch or rub until they abrade their skin, he
"Picking scabs can also be a [type of] self-harm," says
Karen Conterio, author of Bodily Harm and founder of SAFE (Self Abuse
Finally Ends) Alternatives at Linden Oak Hospital in Naperville, Ill.
"Everyone has picked off a scab, and that doesn't mean they
should be running to the nearest psychologist," she says. But "if you
pick a scab because you are anxious and can't get the words out or think 'I am
fat' or 'I am ugly' and then pick a scab, or if you created a wound on your
face and then picked the scab, it could be self-harm," she says.
Cutting Is Not a Suicide Attempt
"Many people are viewed as suicidal, but [self-harm] is
much more of a self-preservation act," she says.
Steven Levenkron wrote the book(s) on cutting -- literally.
Levenkron took a fictional look at the behavior in The Luckiest Girl in the
World and examined it further in Cutting: Understanding and Overcoming
Self-Mutilation. The USA network made a movie on his fiction called
"The first cut is a result of a large insult or
catastrophe, and the second cut takes less provocation. The third cut takes
even less, and the next thing you know you are cutting because you anticipate
having a bad day, and after that they cut because they are at a low point in
[their] mood cycle, and then finally they cut because its been too long since
the last cut," Levenkron tells WebMD.