Why are students cutting themselves?
Posted by Dresonic on April 22, 2007
ADMINISTRATORS in several prominent high schools in the Corporate Area are grappling with a relatively new but dangerous phenomenon- ‘cutters’, or students who purposely cut themselves.
Officials are cautious in discussing the practice, not wanting to blow it out of proportion, but are privately worried that if it is not dealt with adequately, the practice of cutting could escalate.
The number of reports of children mutilating themselves on purpose is worrying, says project co-ordinator for the Child Abuse Mitigation Project at the Bustamante Hospital for Children, Rose Robinson-Hall.
Robinson-Hall put the issue on the table at a seminar in Kingston last month, after being surprised by the discovery in a mock survey conducted among adolescents from several high schools.
The survey showed that for the most part, the student population was familiar with the phenomenon. “I spoke with children from first to sixth form from several high schools and all of them knew of children who are cutters,” she says.
“One of the responses is ‘oh, you mean the cutters’. That means it’s something they know about and it’s part of their reality; it wasn’t a surprise to them,” Robinson-Hall adds. The majority of cutters are said to be females and come from the upper echelons of society.
She has since spoken to several counsellors who have also expressed their concern, she notes.
At least one school has a dedicated “suicide club”, according to a Sunday Observer source who did not wish to be identified and did not want the school to be named.
Robinson-Hall believes that parents, too, should be concerned and alert” to the fact that ‘cutting’ was happening.
“Speaking from a social worker’s standpoint…it could be a feature of the adolescence period where, with a number of things happening, children experience role confusion and so they experiment. But they are at risk really and need guidance,” she argues.
“You need the guidance of a professional psychiatrist or psychologist who could give some insight as to what might be the underlying causes if any…Because among them there might be those who are using this as a way of dealing with unresolved stress or trauma and that is where it’s hard to differentiate sometimes,” the social worker explains.
“But it could be no more than a kind of ‘monkey see, monkey do’ thing. So we have to be very careful not to rush to judgement too quickly, but in fact to try to find out where that behaviour is coming from,” she advises.
In that case, Robinson-Hall adds, it is not recommended that the matter be treated with a heavy hand. “Don’t make a big thing of it because usually they don’t cut themselves very deeply, it’s like a little nick. At the same time, she says, there are serious cases where experiencing the pain helps the child in some way to release the bad feelings.
“One of the things we know working with children who have been abused, is they can’t fight and they can’t flee, so they freeze,” she says. “It’s a bit of emotional numbing where they have all of these feelings bottled up inside and usually at some point, usually in adolescence, some find some kind of release in mutilating themselves.”
But beyond cutting, there are even more chilling concerns emanating from the recent confession of a parent who told a shocked audience at a recent HIV/AIDS seminar held in Kingston of an incident where several boys attending an unnamed high school made identical cuts on their hands and then rubbed the bleeding scars against each other’s, signifying a bond of brotherhood.
Regional behaviour change co-ordinator at the Health Ministry, Andrea Campbell, was worried that HIV could be contracted through this medium, although she acknowledges that for students who cut themselves with razors, the possibility of contracting the virus was minimal as it cannot live once exposed to air.
“If each of them cut themselves and pass the razor on, whatever virus is on t he razor would have died…But when they actually rub blood into blood then I can say there is a possibility of transmission there,” Campbell cautioned.
Consultant clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist, Susan Knight, speaking with the Sunday Observer, says that once the cutting is detected, it should not be swept under the carpet as that could make it worse.
“It’s much better to talk openly and sensibly and give young people the advice and information that they need so they can act on that instead of hurting themselves,” Knight says, suggesting that each school should have a designated contact person in whom students can confide.
She also advises teachers to inform parents about “self-harming” students. “For a teacher to tackle somebody else’s child about this, it’s a bit much. The parent then needs to go either through the child guidance system or see a private psychologist or psychiatrist.”
Knight cites three fundamental causes of cutting: psychiatric illness; need to release emotional tension caused by trauma, and copycat behaviour. According to the clinical psychologist, however, the serious cutters can be differentiated from the copy cats.
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