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Adolescent coping mechanisms, Adolescents, Self-harm, Self-mutilation



  1. Derouin, Anne MSN, RN, CPNP
  2. Bravender, Terrill MD, MPH


The purpose of this article is to share current knowledge about adolescent self-mutilation (SM), and to discuss treatment approaches for affected teens and young adults. One in eight American teenagers experiences depression or anxiety. The growing phenomenon of SM is a particularly worrisome coping mechanism used by teens and young adults to deal with stress and sadness. The incidence of SM is increasing, and might be fueled by current trends in music and media that highlight violent and self-injurious behaviors. SM represents a "cry for help" by adolescents who are suffering. Self-mutilators who repeatedly cut themselves with razors, scissors, knives, or sharp glass are not attempting suicide, but are seeking to relieve extreme anxiety, tension, or pain. Medical literature regarding SM is limited, and evidence-based treatment approaches have not been documented; however, early discovery of SM and the development of a multifaceted treatment approach that incorporates the child, family, and trusted practitioners could be instrumental in managing SM. There is hope that antidepressant medications may also be beneficial. Research is needed to identify successful treatment approaches, and to discover the best ways to educate teens, families, educators, and community leaders about the prevalence of SM in our youth.