Sometimes the New York Times is a little late to the party, so the "Growing Wave Of Teenage Self-Injury" story isn't really "news," per se, but yeah: Cutting is on the rise. Over the weekend I was on a college campus and saw a young lady in a tank top sitting outside of an ice cream parlor. Her hair was pinkish red, her knee socks were striped and her left arm was covered in razor slices — in various stages of healing — from shoulder to wrist. Writes the Times' Jane Brody: "There are no exact numbers for this largely hidden problem, but anonymous surveys among college students suggest that 17% of them have self-injured, and experts estimate that self-injury is practiced by 15% of the general adolescent population." Janis Whitlock, a psychologist doing an eight-college study on self-injury, says that the Internet is spreading the word, prompting many to try it who might not otherwise have known about it. And while some people can't understand why anyone would want to drag a blade across their skin until blood seeps out, it actually makes perfect sense.
When you're suffering from emotional pain — when your heart, mind and soul hurt — and you can't express it, when it stays bottled up because you don't have a method, place or medium of release, cutting can seem like a great idea. Like bleeding is breathing. Like you're letting it all out. Or sometimes you're so numb to the world you're desperate to feel. (Ever see a movie called Fight Club?) Believe me, I'm not advocating self-harm. But I understand it. The Times notes, "Self-injury can become addictive. Experts theorize that it may be reinforced by the release in the brain of opioidlike endorphins that result in a natural high and emotional relief." And honestly? From ear piercing to tattoos and nose jobs, humans have a history of modifying and inflicting harm on ourselves. (Not to mention: Binge eating, drug use, drinking, sun tanning and smoking.) So I call bullshit on the implication that the Internet is going to make a teenager cut herself. Nevermind the "I wish my grass was Emo so it would cut itself" T-shirts. There was self-harm before the age of MySpace and there always will be. Luckily, there are also therapists, doctors, and people who know when they need help.
All too often, if someone asks, "How are you?" we reply, "I'm fine", never letting on what kind of rage, sadness or depression boils inside us. If the Internet is a place where people who self-harm can vocalize and discover they're not alone, is that so bad? The girl in the striped socks was wearing her emotional damage on her sleeve — is there any harm in that, so to speak?
The Growing Wave Of Teenage Self-Injury [NY Times]