Alarming growth in self-injury cases
Experts find more students cutting themselves to cope with emotional problems
A teen cutter shows the scars from the cuts she inflicted on one of her arms.

A local researcher and therapist says more problems are looming for schools as there is an escalation in the number of children resorting to cutting themselves to soothe trauma, while zoned-out educators are confessing that they too are "numb" and too stressed out themselves to respond.

"When you go into schools nowadays and talk to most of the students, we have the generation with the highest anxiety issues, depression, suicide; all of these are being manifested in schools. A whole bunch of students are cutting themselves right now, and the cutting is used in order to regulate their emotional problems," Daniel Brown told the Jamaica Observer on Monday.

He said children have shared that cutting themselves "temporarily relieves pressure".

According to Brown, while the practice of self-injury is not new, it seems to have escalated.

"I see mostly girls who are cutting. I saw a teen recently that has been cutting; she lost two friends over the past two years and cutting is a means of easing the pain. All of it goes back to being fragmented: 'I feel broken and I don't know how to fix me' is the sentiment," Brown, who said he has done a series of workshops and sessions at schools recently, told the Observer.

According to the therapist, girls are mostly the ones cutting themselves; boys, however, have been resorting to drugs and other substances.

He said while some girls make an effort to hide the areas they cut from observant eyes, some do not conceal.

"Most of the children I am coming across cut themselves in areas that are in plain sight, and one of the sad realities is that most parents are not paying attention to their children," he stated.

"For the child, remember that within that moment their entire system is on overdrive and they cannot focus the way they are supposed to, so it is just temporary relief that is being sought. The instrument, as long as it is sharp, they will use it — whether it's a razor blade, pencil, knife, anything. Once it can penetrate the skin they will use it," he said.

"We have a serious problem coming our way shortly. Although COVID ended, most persons are still stuck in that confinement of those two years, and they are being left behind. Majority of our children are not safe at home; imagine what they went through and when they came back into the school system there wasn't anything put in place to help them deal with what COVID was. Eventually we are going to have a lot more issues dealing with more than cutting, and cutting is a big problem now," he declared.

"Students at grades seven and nine are telling me, 'Sir, I don't feel real,' and what that means is there is nothing connecting them to this earth. So when a person doesn't feel connected anywhere it's easy for them to leave," Brown warned.

The problem, he is maintaining, will balloon further because of the state of some educators who are themselves pressured.

"I have done a series of workshops with schools to do venting sessions with teachers, and some say they are numb. So if you are numb being the teacher, how do you give back when they themselves are lost?" he asked, adding "Teachers need a venting system where they sit down and talk with someone about what is happening in their life. Every counsellor needs a counsellor."

He said schools need more trained professionals on the inside to deal with the issues which, he is contending, go beyond what even guidance counsellors are trained to deal with.

One well-established child psychiatrist with whom the Observer spoke confirmed Brown's observations.

"We are not recording [the numbers] but yes, we have been getting reports. Our kids who have a lot of anxiety, some who have been suffering sexual abuse and are unable to disclose are the ones that we are seeing," said the child psychiatrist who opted not to be named.

According to the psychiatrist, cutting, which is classified as an NSSI (non-suicidal self injury), is not recorded because the most recent classification manual (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5) does not carry this as a psychiatric disorder.

"Maybe when it is reviewed they might include it, but we are not recording," the source said.

Asked whether more children are self-harming now as against years gone by, the individual said "Yes, more are."

"In my reading there are some sites that tell the kids where to cut and [that] they are not to tell their therapists. I would say it is more. I think social media and the use of the Internet have aggravated the situation," the psychiatrist said.

In 2007, public discussions about students cutting themselves were sparked by findings of an informal survey conducted in several high schools through a Child Abuse Mitigation Project linked to a hospital in Kingston. The survey showed that for the most part, the student population was familiar with the phenomenon, with the majority of cutters said to be females from the upper echelons of society. At least one school at the time had a dedicated "suicide club".

Consultant clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist Susan Knight, speaking with the Observer at that time, said teachers should 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," she said then.

Knight cited 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 copycats.

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