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Cutting Factsheet (for Schools)

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD

What Teachers Should Know

Cutting is a form of self-injury. Teens and preteens may use a sharp object to purposely mark, cut, or scratch themselves.

People typically cut themselves on their wrists, forearms, thighs, or belly. They might use a razorblade, knife, scissors, a metal tab from a soda can, the end of a paper clip, a nail file, or a pen. Some people burn their skin with the end of a cigarette or lighted match.

Cutting is not a suicide attempt, but people who self-injure are more likely to attempt suicide. But even when suicide is not the goal, cutting can still cause serious injuries.

Cutting can be a sign of emotional distress. Teens cut for many different reasons:

  • Most teens who cut are struggling with powerful emotions and cutting gives them a sense of relief.
  • Cutting provides a sense of control over other things teens can't control.
  • Cutting can start as an impulsive behavior, but it becomes harder to stop the more they do it.
  • Some teens who cut are also struggling with other urges, obsessions, or compulsive behaviors.
  • People who cut are more likely to have mental health problems, like depression, anxiety, PTSD, or eating disorders.

Students who cut may:

  • hide marks on their body and, if the marks are noticed, make excuses for them
  • appear depressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, and get angry or upset if confronted about cutting
  • be doing poorly in school or seem socially isolated
  • miss class time to see therapists or school counselors
  • need extra time to complete class assignments and homework

What Teachers Can Do

For many teens and preteens, cutting is a sign that they are dealing with emotional distress or mental illness. While some teens call attention to their cuts, others hide them out of shame. Many teens cut for a long time before anyone else knows.

If you suspect that your student is cutting or doing other self-harm, talk to a school counselor, school psychologist, school nurse, principal, or designated crisis team. Teens who self-injure should be referred to mental health specialists.

You can help your student by:

  • providing extra time for class and homework assignments
  • being consistent and supportive
  • teaching all students healthy ways to deal with stress
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: November 2019