More and more teens turning to self-injury as a form of appeasement
MONTREAL, Sept. 14, 2012 /CNW Telbec/ - More and more teenagers are
turning to self-mutilation to cope with their inner turmoil. Dr. Martin
Gauthier, Psychiatrist-in-Chief at The Montreal Children's Hospital,
MUHC says the number of teenagers deliberately and repeatedly injuring
their bodies by cutting, piercing or biting their flesh is growing at
an alarming rate.
When the psychiatrist started his practice 25 years ago, he seldom
encountered adolescents who purposely mutilated themselves. When he
did, they were often psychotic, intellectually challenged or autistic.
Today, approximately half the teenage patients he treats are
self-injurers. "In the adolescent clinical population, it is about one
in two. In the general population, one in six is a conservative figure.
It goes up to one in three in some surveys," says Dr. Martin Gauthier,
who will be giving a lecture on self-mutilation during this fall's Mini
Med School at the MCH.
Female self-injurers are more likely to seek professional help but
studies indicate self-mutilation is practiced equally by adolescent
boys and girls across all racial and socioeconomic groups. The most
common form of self-injury is cutting the skin with a razor blade,
knife, scissors or other sharp tool. Less frequently, teenagers also
pinch, burn, hit, prick and bite themselves. Typical targets are the
arms, legs and abdomen and they often hide their scars behind clothing.
"It is important to differentiate cutting one's breasts and genitals
from the other situations. It is more serious as it involves a more
direct attack of the sexual body," adds Dr. Gauthier.
Teenagers hurt themselves to feel better
Dr. Gauthier also points out that self-mutilation is rarely a symptom of
severe mental illness or a method used to commit suicide. It typically
stems from inner turmoil caused by painful or unresolved issues such as
intense adolescent angst and the emotional aftershocks of bullying or
sexual, physical, and emotional abuse.
"Most teenagers harm themselves because they are trying to feel better
and cannot access other ways to deal with how terrible they feel.
Self-mutilation helps to get rid of the tension and to resume normal
activities. When repeated, it appears to become more mechanical and
quasi addictive," he says.
Cutting has become trendy
Dr. Gauthier warns that an increasing number of teenagers are
experimenting with self-mutilation to mimic celebrities and their
peers. Self-injury forums on the Internet and cutting clubs at school
have become popular.
"Self-mutilation is very contagious. It is obvious on a psychiatric ward
as it spreads from one patient to others. The same phenomenon exists
obviously in schools and in our society through the examples given by
stars, actors, musicians, and other teens. It has also been observed in
jails and reception centers."
The compulsive urge to self-mutilate
Some specialists hypothesize the compulsive urge to self-mutilate may be
reinforced by the release of opioid-like endorphins, which results in a
natural high. Dr. Gauthier also questions the connection between
self-mutilation, and adolescent emotional and sexual development.
"Adolescence is characterized by a new rapport with the body as it
develops and experiences genital orgasms. Becoming the owner of one's
body and the emotions it generates is a formidable task. When the
capacity to tolerate and process certain intense feelings fails, these
teenagers can feel compelled to attack their own bodies instead of
turning to a pleasurable sensual activity to soothe themselves. It
becomes their way of regaining mastery over situations and a body they
feel they have little control over."
Teenagers rarely seek help for self-mutilation and it can be a difficult
pattern to break. Dr. Gauthier says a comprehensive assessment is
crucial, not necessarily by a child psychiatrist but by a competent
mental health professional. That professional will be able to assess
when a psychiatrist is needed.
"We rarely address the self-mutilation alone. It is one aspect of the
adolescent's difficulties and the treatment will want to keep a global
view. Specific suggestions to replace self-mutilation by more
integrative solutions are more possible once a therapeutic alliance is
established and the adolescent wants to stop cutting. "
Dr. Martin Gauthier concludes by saying, "Self-mutilation confronts us
to a human reality, most likely associated to consciousness and to our
emotional development. Humans can turn their violence towards
themselves. It is a complex behaviour involving one's relationship with
oneself and with others. This movement against oneself is paradoxically
aiming at an increased mastery of one's reality."
Dr. Martin Gauthier will be giving a talk on adolescents and
self-mutilation during the French edition of Mini-Med at the MCH.
Registration has begun and seating is limited. Mini-Med is offered in
French starting October 10th and in English starting October 9th. The cost is $65.00 for adults and $45.00 for seniors and students.
Students can register online at www.thechildren.com or can obtain more information by calling 514-412-4307.
SOURCE: The Montreal Children's Hospital
For further information:
To interview Dr. Gauthier please call:
Public Relations and Communications
The Montreal Children's Hospital, MUHC