Cutting Deep: Crying for help
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - So many images plastered across social media are painful, disturbing and difficult to look at.
For years, this kind of self harm was viewed only by therapists or other cutters who wanted to share their misery.
But today, there's a generation of young people taking their images and how-to-videos straight to the Internet.
"Hey guys, It's Just Baby Scars here," says an anonymous YouTube teen who goes by just that: "It's Just Baby Scars."
"I'm gonna be making a video to tell you guys how you hide your self-harm scars."
Kathleen Parrish, clinical director at Cottonwood Tucson, has seen all too many videos just like this.
"There is a phenomena right now that we see, particularly with adolescents where they do engage in exchange of self-harm images via YouTube, via Instagram, via Tumblr," Parrish says.
Cottonwood Tucson is one of the state's leading treatment centers for re-occurring disorders like self harming.
"Probably 75 to 80 percent of our adolescent girls that admit for treatment have a history of self harm or are actively self harming when they come in," Parrish says.
That's been the case for nearly two decades: girls -- much more so than boys -- who cut themselves because words alone aren't sufficient or because nobody's really listening to what they're trying to say.
"So a lot of them are communicating pain, sadness, desperation, hopelessness," Parrish says.
Licensed counselor Lori Feingold agrees.
"There's so much going on in our world that kids don't know how to handle it. There's so much stress," Feingold says. "They don't know what to do."
What they do know is how to post their pain.
And they're doing so on every social media platform today.
Sites like Facebook actually do a pretty good job at taking the images down immediately.
Though we found dozens on Flickr, Tumblr and Instagram.
Particularly after entering "#DONE."
"It's sad, it's kind of graphic and it has to do with self harm," says another anonymous young lady on YouTube.
"We have to understand that this generation communicates through social media, all the time. And so how they're feeling is what they're gonna put out there," Feingold says.
Based on the number of teenagers she treats every week, Feingold knows cutting is a major problem in our society today.
And she can often sense it,"It's a hundred degrees and they're wearing long sleeves," long before the topic surfaces in therapy.
"I know if they're wearing bracelets, all up and down their arms...that maybe they're cutting under there," Feingold says.
"Or if they're covered up in any way, I know I need to start asking some questions."
Questions we all need to be asking the moment we see this on social media.
In many cases, images on Tumblr or Instagram are posted by friends or acquaintances.
If they're posting anything like this it is, without question, a cry for help.
"These kids are desperate; they're hurting; they're lonely and they have limited support," says Kathleen Parrish, referring to the hundreds of teens she's treated over her 12 years at Cottonwood Tucson.
"These girls tell me, when they cut it makes them feel alive," says Feingold, an Arizona therapist for 16 years. "And it's also a distraction from the pain inside of themselves."
Which is why it's everyone's responsibility to reach out to these people, especially their parents.
Most sites post disclaimers, saying they do not condone self harm in any way.
Some even offer immediate help whenever words associated with self harm are brought up.
YouTube, on the other hand, is a little different.
We found countless videos that not only showcase self harm, but actually provide step by step instructions how to cover it up.
"That's not going to do anything, I'm a realist and I know people are gonna self harm," says another anonymous YouTube contributor.
Good news is we also found several videos that speak to the dangers of self harm as well.
First person accounts, explaining how addictive it can be and how experimentation can lead to years of isolation and misery.
"Before you make that cut, please keep in mind that you'll find the pain release and blood strangely addictive," says one self-help clip aimed at educating teens about the dangers of self harm.
Still, most mental health officials are opposed to viewing this kind of material in any way.
At Cottonwood, the first step toward recovery is removing patients from the Internet and all social media.
Exposure often leads to relapse.
"Their scars look deeper, they look worse. They look like they're in more pain than I am so I want to communicate my pain more loudly," Parrish says, speaking to the mindset of many teens in recovery. "So there can become a competitive nature and unfortunately the Internet can fuel that."
Bottom line, mental health professionals say self harm is much like substance abuse.
If you never change the pattern of abuse, the feelings associated with it will never go away.
"Sometimes girls will say, 'When I feel better I will stop self harming,' Parrish says. "It's the other way around, when you stop self harming you actually start to feel better."
As distasteful or damaging as these images may be, technically, there's nothing illegal about posting them.
In fact, a number of recovering patients say it's therapeutic for them to talk to others going through the same sort of problems.
As for any ethical stance, most social media sites certainly do not encourage this and insist any graphic images will be taken down.
But as we saw, some images manage to stay online longer than others. If and when you see any such images and/or video clips, experts say reach out to these people. Let them know you're concerned about them and point them to the following resources:
Counseling and Prevention Resources:
Are you having a tough time? If you are struggling with an eating disorder, depression, self harm, suicidal thoughts, or just need to talk to someone, please reach out to counselors at one of the services listed below. They are ready to help and want to hear from you.
If you are, or someone you know is, in immediate danger, please call a local emergency telephone number or go immediately to the nearest emergency room.
Free and confidential counseling in the United States:
If you know someone who is struggling, please encourage them to use these services. Expressing how much you care can make a huge difference in that person's life.
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