When you’re standing in line at a fast food restaurant with your daughter and you get your first glimpse of the scabbed over lines peeking from the cuff of her shirt sleeve, the bottom drops out of your whole world. In that first moment you discover she’s one of those teens cutting herself, on purpose, in secret, right under your nose, a hurricane blows through you. Suddenly, you don’t want a value meal, you want to help your child! Save her! Heal her! But, how? There is no chapter in the instruction book parents are given with their newborn infant called: “What to do when your perfect precious baby becomes a teen who cuts.” We all know there’s no instruction book at all – we, as parents, fly by the seat of our pants. And no one at the PTA meeting talks about teens cutting, let alone what to do when you discover there’s a cutter living in your house. So, when you find out you have a teen who cuts, what do you do?
My first action: freak out. I screamed, I cried, I railed against God, and, I regretted it immediately. It did not help my child one bit. If anything, it scared her. My number one piece of advice: remain calm. If you have to cry and scream and engage in loud self-doubt, save it for later, when you’re alone and the kid is safe.
Teens Cutting and What it Means
Next, I called our pediatrician, who saw my daughter right away. My kid was taken into an exam room, alone, and examined. Several long minutes later, I was ushered into the doctor’s personal office and handed a box of tissues. The doctor explained that cutting is more common than anyone would like to admit, but it’s not necessarily suicidal behavior. But, better to be safe than sorry – my daughter needed psychiatric help, right away. I was told that the local mental health facility that deals with troubled kids was full, so we needed to go to the emergency room at the hospital.
What happens at the ER? They draw your child’s blood, collect urine, and do a physical exam, looking for signs of drug use, underlying illness, and other injury or abuse. You’re questioned and your child is questioned, by nurses, doctors, social workers, and the admissions staff who deals with insurance. Plan to spend five to six hours in a cloud of confusion. And, then, plan on your child either being admitted to the hospital or transferred to a more appropriate facility. From that point on, you have no say in the matter. The kid is on lockdown for at least 72 hours, minimum.
Because the local mental health treatment center had no beds available, and the hospital could not locate a qualified specialist to evaluate my daughter on that Friday night, she was admitted and given a room on the children’s ward, where she (and my family) was watched 24 hours a day by “sitters,” nurses, and social workers. She was there for two days.
Finally, a bed opened up at the psychiatric treatment center. An ambulance transported my daughter while I followed in my car. I was not allowed to see her once we parted ways at the hospital, so keep that in mind – say your good-byes when they load your kid onto a stretcher because the next time you see them will be during visiting hours at the psychiatric center.
Self Harm Recovery for Teens
My daughter was kept in the mental health treatment center for five days. She participated in group therapy sessions, was evaluated by doctors who regularly see teens cutting, and she was started on a course of antidepressants. I was allowed to visit with her for an hour each day.
As a mom, hospitalization was a heartbreaking and hellish experience, but it may have saved my beautiful daughter’s life. It has, at least, stopped her from cutting herself any further. She now sees a therapist every week, and a psychiatrist once a month. She seems to be doing better. I no longer leave her home alone or let her have sharp objects, and I chase her out of the bathroom when she’s been in there too long, but I hope the trust will be back someday. (Regarding the bathroom issue: looking back on my daughter’s behavior in the months before I discovered her cutting, she had been spending a lot of time in the bathroom. I hadn’t thought anything of, because she’s at that mirror-gazing age, but now I know she was cutting herself in there before school. Also, she was using art tools to cut. Just FYI.)
So, if you find that your own precious child is among the growing number of teens cutting, start by calling your child’s doctor. He or she will steer you in the right direction and get you started on the path to recovery. Know that you will not be in control once you seek help, but that can be a blessing, since medical professionals know exactly what to do in order to help teens who cut. Know that if your child’s school gets involved, they may send state social workers to your home, and they will ask you a lot of embarrassing questions, but, keep in mind that it is their job to find out whether your child is safe. Above all, remain calm, hug your kid, and know that you’re not alone. Teens who cut need not only professional help, but also all your love and lots of support. Good luck.
Article Contributor: Shari Levine