Dear Auntie, I’m worried about my friend who I just found out is cutting. She said that she can’t talk to her mom and has been using a razor to cut herself when she feels sad or upset. What do I do?
You’re a good friend for writing in. Finding out that someone you care about has been cutting can be upsetting. It’s normal to feel confused, helpless, sad, worried, or mad, especially if you feel you’re the only one who knows what going on with your friend. So I applaud you for writing in for help.
To begin, it’s important to know exactly what cutting is, why some people do it, and how they can stop.
Injuring yourself on purpose by making scratches or cuts on your body with a sharp object — enough to break the skin and make it bleed — is called cutting. Cutting is a type of self-injury, or SI. People who cut often start cutting in their young teens. Some continue to cut into adulthood.
Why Do People Cut Themselves?
- Some people turn to cutting when they have problems or painful feelings and haven’t found another way to cope or get relief.
- People who cut may not have developed healthy ways to cope. Or their coping skills may be overpowered by emotions that are too intense.
- Cutting may be an attempt to relieve extreme tension.
- Cutting often begins on an impulse. However, cutting can be habit-forming, meaning that the more a person does it, the more he or she feels the need to do it.
- Self-injury has a similar effect on the body as drugs do so self-injury is serious and needs to be addressed.
Myths about Cutting
- Myth 1: Cutting is simply an attention-getter. People use self-harm in part because there’s a painkiller effect. When cutters are in emotional pain, they literally won’t feel that pain as much when they do this to themselves.
- Myth 2: People will outgrow cutting. Cutting only works in the short term. Over time, the cutting typically gets worse because it can take more cutting to get the same relief — much like drug addiction.
- Myth 3: Cutters will eventually attempt suicide. Cutting is usually a person’s attempt at feeling better, not a means to end it all. However, if your friend ever talks about suicide, take it seriously and call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741741 and talk or text with a trained volunteer.
- Myth 4: You can force a cutter to stop. This strategy doesn’t work and it just puts pressure on everyone. Let your friend know that you’ll always be there to talk to.
Some help for your Friend
Here are a few things you can suggest to your friend:
- Start journal – using a journal can give your friend a safe place for her to explore and express her feelings in a healthy way
- She is not alone – let your friend know that you care, that she deserves to be healthy and happy, and that she doesn’t need to bear her troubles alone.
- Reach out – let your friend know, that along with her family and friends, there are others out there who care about her wellbeing. She can get involved with the We R Native community, as well as the Now Matters Now community who are people also facing challenges with living more manageable and meaningful lives. It can also be helpful to encourage her to become more involved in her tribal community.
There are ways your friend can learn to stop cutting, but she’s going to need some help.
- Talk to your friend. Let your friend know you care about her and don’t want her to hurt herself. You can say something like, “Your feelings must just overwhelm you sometimes. You’ve been through a lot — no wonder you hurt. I want to help you find a way to cope that won’t hurt you anymore.” If your friend asks you to keep the cutting a secret, say that you aren’t sure you can because you care. Tell your friend that he or she deserves to feel better.
- Tell someone. It’s important to talk to an adult you trust, like a parent, a school psychologist or counselor, or a teacher or coach your friend is close to. Studies show that 90% of those who self-injure are able to stop within a year of beginning treatment.
Other places to find help are:
- National Alliance on Mental Illness– help individuals and families get support for mental illnesses. You can start by calling their helpline 1-800-950-NAMI, or get on their website to find a support group near you.
- Now Matters Now– is a resource that teaches skills that have been shown to decrease self-injury/ cutting.
- Reach out.com has a hotline 1-800-448-3000 youth can call if they are going through a tough time to help provide you with support, and hook you up with local services.
- Mental Health America has a zip code locator to help you find clinics near you with low-cost or sliding scale services. They also have a Crisis hotline you can call: 1-800-273-TALK.
I applaud you for seeking help for your friend and the best ways to support her.
Best of luck. You and your friend are in my thoughts and prayers.