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Cutting/Self Harm

Cutting is when a person intentionally makes cuts on his or her body with a sharp object. The cuts may be small or large, shallow or deep. They may cause a little bleeding or a lot of bleeding and require stitches. The person cuts to try to feel better. This is not a suicide attempt. Some people use other methods to hurt themselves – burning, scratching, head banging, pulling out hair, biting or hitting themselves, etc. At schools in Waterloo Region they are known as “EMO’s (“emotional”) and sometimes they hang around in groups. The EMO subculture is associated with emo music (emotional rock or indie music) but also extends into appearance, behaviour, and perspectives on life.

Cutting can become an addiction over time. Like other addictions only the addict can have the power to make change, seek help and support.

Both sexes may cut themselves, but more females do this. They may cut at any age but most people start as teens or young adults. It could be short term or go on for years. Background, race and income level does not appear to have any influence.

Why do people cut?

Cutting is a response to deep and painful feelings. People cut for different reasons:
  • Some feel numb. The pain of cutting makes them feel alive.
  • Some feel ashamed or guilty about something. It is a way to punish themselves.
  • Some believe it is a method of control. Choosing when and where to feel physical pain makes them feel more in control of their emotional pain.
  • Some want to communicate. Cutting is a way to express pain the person can’t say in words.

Signs of Cutting

It may be difficult to spot signs of self-injury as people often try to keep this behaviour secret.

  • Scars, such as from burns or cuts
  • Always wearing long sleeved shirts and long pants
  • Cuts, scratches or other wounds
  • Bruises
  • Broken bones
  • Keeping sharp objects on hand
  • Spending a lot of time alone
  • Frequent accidents or mishaps

Risks of Cutting

  • Infection
  • Scars
  • Unintended life-threatening injuries
  • Losing (or not learning) other ways to cope
  • Feeling guilty, ashamed or angry about the cutting
  • Having painful feelings continue and get worse
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Avoiding usual activities as the cutting becomes more addictive

Cutting can become an addiction over time. Here are some suggestions from people who stopped cutting:

  • Be honest. Admit how serious the behaviour is.
  • Know what you can do. Like other addictions only the addict can have the power to make change, seek help and support.
  • Notice triggers. What events, situations and memories can lead to cutting? Avoid these triggers.
  • Build a support system – Find people who can help you to make healthier choices.
  • Try therapy – If the person has been cutting for some time, therapy may be a way to get support.
If your child or youth is cutting:

  • In an emergency, GET HELPCall 911 if you need to.
  • Ask about it. Listen if he or she wants to talk.
  • Avoid judging. Don’t dismiss the cutting as a way to get attention.
  • Let them know you care. Understand that they are feeling pain.
  • Help them find resources that can help.
  • Contact your paediatrician or family doctor
  • Get a referral to a mental health specialist-preferably with expertise in self-injury



Links or Useful Resources on CUTTING/SELF HARM:
Mayo Clinic -
Canadian Mental Health Association -
Kids Help Phone – 1-800-668-6868 -
The Helpline USA and enter “self-injury” in search tab