Does Cutting Mean That Someone Is Suicidal?

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Question:  My teenage daughter has been cutting herself.  Does this mean she is suicidal?  Why does she want to hurt herself like this?

Answer:  While it might seem like she is hurting herself because she wants to commit suicide—after all, cutting the wrists is one method that people use to kill themselves—this isn't necessarily what her intentions are.  People who injure themselves by cutting, scratching, burning and other methods of self-harm are often doing it as a way to relieve their emotional suffering.

While it might seem counterintuitive that causing oneself physical pain could help emotional pain, many cutters report that this is exactly what happens.  Cutting causes the release of chemicals called endorphins.  Endorphins are the body's own natural painkillers and they help it to cope with the stress and pain associated with injury.  They can also help dampen emotional pain. 

Other reasons that self-injurers often give for cutting and self-harm are: releasing anger, slowing down racing thoughts and coping with dissociation or flashbacks.  When dissociation or flashbacks occur, the physical sensations of pain are a way for the person to ground themselves back in reality.

While I can't say for certain whether your daughter is experiencing any thoughts of suicide, one thing I do feel fairly certain of is that she is going through quite a bit of emotional turmoil and needs your help and support.

  You will need to do what you can to ensure that she gets professional treatment with both medications (to help quell the feelings that are driving her urges to hurt herself) and therapy (to help teach her better ways to deal with her feelings). 

Please be aware that this is not just a passing phase that she is going through or a cry for attention.

  You should take this quite seriously.  Cutting can be very addictive and hard to stop without assistance.  There is also the risk that she may accidentally hurt herself more seriously than she intends to.


Alderman, Tracy.  "Myths and Misconceptions of Self-Injury: Part II."  Psychology Today.  Sussex Publishers, LLC.  Published:  Ocobert 22, 2009.  Accessed:  June 28, 2015.

Ferrales, Diana and Sonja Koukel.  "Teens and Self-Cutting (Self-Harm): Information for Parents: Guide I-104."  New Mexico State University.  New Mexico State University Board of Regents.  Accessed:  June 28, 2015.

Lohmann, Raychelle Cassada.  "Understanding Suicide and Self-Harm."  Psychology Today.  Sussex Publishers, LLC.  Published:  October 28, 2012.  Accessed:  June 28, 2015.

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