Cutting and Mental Illness

Self-mutilation is a deliberate act to destroy one’s own body tissue without a conscious intent to die. This includes overdosing on medications and other drugs, cutting, burning, purging, poison, and smoking.  In England and Australia, 13% of adolescents have engaged in deliberate self-harm, according to a study from 2007. In America, a 2008 study concluded that 3 million Americans self-harm. Self-cutting is most common among 16-year-old girls. Self-cutting is associated with poor social relationships, aggressive behavior, and depressive and somatic symptoms. Some studies suggest that girls with separated/divorced parents have an increased risk of self-cutting.

Self-harming is generally a very secretive coping method. However, those who use this method are often accused of seeking attention. Despite this accusation, it is generally an incorrect result of the stigmatization of mental illness. Girls report intrapsychic reasons for self-harm more often than boys, meaning girls who direct their feelings inward have a risk of seeking alleviation for their symptoms of depression and anxiety by self-cutting. In an article published by The Guardian, a girl explained her reason for cutting: “When you keep all your problems in, it feels like you’re screaming inside. But when you cut or burn yourself, the pain is more physical. You feel like you’re releasing that scream. After a few months, self-harming became part of my daily routine.” Other reasons for self-harm include punishment, relieving stress, and to stop feeling numb. Cutting is no longer considered a masochistic behavior, but a coping mechanism. 

The relationship between substance abuse and self-harm can be two-fold. 1) Substance abuse can be an of self-harm. 2) A drug-induced state may trigger self-harming behavior. Anxious and depressive adolescents who have the experience of self-cutting may use alcohol as a means of self-help, but in the long term this may exacerbate their symptoms and potentially increase the need to self-cut.

One study said that 19& of their community of children and adolescents reported having mental health problems. Mental disorders are nearly 4x more common in currently self-cutting adolescents than among other adolescents. Self-cutting is typically linked with depression. This is the criteria for diagnosing depression according to the DSM-V:

  • Depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities for more than two weeks.

  • Mood represents a change from the person’s baseline.

  • Impaired function: social, occupational, educational.

  • Specific symptoms, at least 5 of these 9, present nearly every day:

    • Depressed mood or irritable most of the day, nearly every day, as indicated by either subjective report (e.g., feels sad or empty) or observation made by others (e.g., appears tearful).

    • Decreased interest or pleasure in most activities, most of each day

    • Significant weight change (5%) or change in appetite

    • Change in sleep: Insomnia or hypersomnia

    • Change in activity: Psychomotor agitation or retardation

    • Fatigue or loss of energy

    • Guilt/worthlessness: Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt

    • Concentration: diminished ability to think or concentrate, or more indecisiveness

    • Suicidality: Thoughts of death or suicide, or has suicide plan


A masochist is a person who seeks out pain for pleasure. Generally masochists are associated with sexual masochism disorder, a medical condition in which experiencing pain or humiliation is required for sexual arousal. However, GPI suggests looking at the term generally. Benign masochism is a type of masochism experienced by most individuals. It is connected to hedonic reversals, the conversion of an innate negative experience into a positive experience. Essentially, realizing that the body has been fooled, and that there is no real danger, leads to pleasure. It includes the burn of a chili pepper in your mouth, enjoying sad music, movies, or books,  and enjoying scary movies or thrill rides. Males are more likely to enjoy strong/alcoholic tastes, while females are more likely to enjoy sadness.  It does not include dangerous activities such as rock climbing.

Studies suggest that masochists enjoy the actual experience of negative events and the adrenaline rush. They experience a form of catharsis for unsafe behavior. It is connected to the relationship between sensation and power. Doug may be considered a masochist for his injuries. It is unclear if he seeks harm for suicidal reasons, pleasure, to connect with Kayleen, or if he is really accident prone.

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