My 14 Year Old Son Has Been Cutting Himself?

Updated on January 02, 2014
S.D. asks from Seattle, WA
12 answers

About a year ago, my youngest son was killed in a hit and run accident. That affected both me and my oldest son greatly so we started family counseling to try to work through some issues. At our last session, my son requested that I leave the room so he could talk to the therapist alone. I was happy about that because we've been having problems getting him to open up. When the session was over our therapist told me that he's been harming himself, apparently since even before his brother passed. She recommended he sees his own therapist on a regular basis and that I keep a close eye on him. When we got home I asked him to roll up his sleeves and when he did there was hardly any skin that wasn't cut or scarred! I searched his room and I found pocket knives and razors hidden in places all over his room. I took them away but I know if he really wants to hurt himself, he'll find a way. I was careful not to yell or get angry, but show him how worried I am. I'm also worried about the risk of suicide. When I talked to him about this he kept saying he hates his life and that he doesn't want to live without his brother or his dad (Who abandoned the family a few years ago). I don't know what to do I don't know much about this and I don't think counseling alone will help but I don't know what else to do. If anyone has experienced this, your advice is greatly appreciated.

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answers from Washington DC on

I'm so sorry!

Did the family counselor really only say "He needs his own therapist and you should keep an eye on him" and that's all that was said? That seems very vague and rather useless to me. I would contact that counselor immediately; tell her what you found in his room; tell her exactly what he said regarding how he "doesn't want to live" without his brother and dad. He may need to be hospitalized immediately for a short term to get him stabilized (he might also need medications-- is he on any, now?) and to protect him from harming himself. I think your fears about suicide are accurate at this time -- go with your gut here and talk to the counselor today (yes, today) about whether this merits immediate intervention such as hospitalization. Be SURE, if he is hospitalized, that he gets into a unit that specializes in teenagers, where the doctors know what they are dealing with.

He may not need hospitalization but you need much more detailed advice about what you need to be doing right now and you need it today.

The fact that he has been able to hide very extensive injuries from you says that he is very, very good at covering things up. And the fact he has admitted to this is positive. But I would want to know: What do I do day to day; should he go back to school right now (that may be best, if it gives him routine and normalcy, or it could be bad if he is cutting AT school, for instance). You need more information. I hope things go well. Praise him for finally speaking up and stay calm as you were when you took the things from his room -- he is sick, not rebellious. And he does need much more intensive therapy than he's going to get doing joint counseling with you. He might even need daily therapy or therapy several times a week for a while if he is suicidal.

Please, get more advice. Kids his age do follow through on suicidal thoughts. You are doing well and paying attention -- give yourself that credit -- now make the doctors and the system help you more than just saying "find him a therapist" which could take ages.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Erie on

Leigh is right. You need to have him properly evaluated by a psychiatrist. I was a cutter. It's a way to "feel" when you feel numb. Being numb is a serious sign of deep depression, it's usually what follows the "sad" feelings when you can't deal with them due to trauma. Your son did the right thing - telling the therapist. You did the right thing - taking the implements of harm away without anger. But this isn't over yet. Cutting is one step away from seriously considering suicide. He needs more help than a simple therapist. He probably needs some inpatient care to start with, then long term frequent therapy sessions with a psychiatrist. And he needs medication for the depression. Start today. Your son has been a victim of trauma - twice. He is suffering from ptsd and spiraling out of control (he knows this, he's reaching out for help) and if you don't take control of this soon, it will get worse. I am so sorry. Keep talking with him, he needs to feel a part of his recovery, but he also needs to know the adults in his life are in control and will take care of him.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

I am so sorry to hear about the terrible losses you have both had to endure. You are one very strong mama bear and give yourself a great big mental (((hug))) from me for hanging in there and thinking about helping your son. My daughter has cut herself in the past (about 2 years ago now), she receives therapy and is on anti-depressants. She is soooo much happier now. But your situation seems imminently sadder. The loss of a brother and son, and the abandonment by father and husband are HUGE milestones each, and taken together would overwhelm anyone. Again, cudos to you for simply making it through the day each day, and still having enough energy and love to give to help your son.
Having the issue out in the open really helped our daughter since we could talk about it. I did ask her which implements she used, where they were, told her that I know she can find more but I am putting them away, please come see me any time of day or night when these emotions to hurt yourself come to you, etc.etc. It made us closer to be able to talk about it. The medicines (after trying 2 others that had bad side effects) really help calm her anxieties and lift her spirits. The doctor said that while she stated "I don't want to be here anymore" she was not a true suicide risk since she had made no plans (like saving up pills or figuring out exactly HOW to do it).
To be on the safe side I would ask about the inpatient suggestions about others below which can only be temporary (we asked about this one night when our daughter had a long panic attack raking her face with her nails and rocking and would not let us touch her), but I would also talk to your son directly. But don't make therapy/misery the only subject between you, but do some fun things too, whatever he enjoys. And once a therapist you trust has assessed him, I would also talk to the school and get him on a 504 plan which will forgive tardies/absences in case he cannot make it into school due to depression/insomnia/whatever he suffers from (we have this in place for our daughter since x tardies equal an absence and xx absences cause an immediate F in the class in our high school).
Hang in there, do keep an open conversation between the 2 of you, and ask for help if you simply cannot do it alone. School counselors, church, family, suicide hotlines, etc. You can also call 211 to be put in touch with the services that you need, or use the website
Good luck.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

My daughter started cutting herself this year. She was inpatient for 5 days and the counseling she did receive helped her see things a bit differently. We are by no means cured but she has found ways to handle her anger and fears. She has not cut for at least 2 months now. Due to the extent of your sons injuries and the underlying hurts and losses, I totally agree that an inpatient plan could help him. And don't discount counseling. It is great he decided to open up to someone and this can help him go further. From what my daughter has told me, a lot of kids at school cut and otherwise hurt themselves.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

He needs to be inpatient. I am totally surprised the counselor didn't arrange it before he left the building that day.

And by the way, I'd be looking for a different therapist. If you do well with this one then you keep them but don't let your child around them.


Why would you need to do that if he wasn't a threat to himself?????

SO, legally this therapist is required by law to get him help, right away. Telling you to keep an eye on him is so lame!

He needs to be inpatient so he can stay alive and not cut himself so badly he dies.

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE call your local hospital and ask them about a mental health admit. In our town anyone needing help can go to the local ER and they will call the intake worker for the local mental health agency. IF that person feels the person is a threat to themselves or to another person they sign a paper and that person gets sent to the nearest mental health facility to be observed until they decide placement.

Your son is at the brink, the brink of cutting a little deeper or turning to something else.

He feels numb inside so he cuts himself to feel. Others state they cut themselves due to guilt. So much guilt they felt they should not be alive, they just don't have the "courage" to take their own lives.

Either way he's going to be gone forever if you don't take action today. Please, he needs antidepressants and possibly other mental health medication. In patient will keep him away from cutting items until he's more stable.

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answers from Chicago on


Do you have support for yourself? Please keep yourself wrapped in support and let people know you still need them. Take care of yourself.

I would write down questions and call back the therapist. Perhaps he refused inpatient but agreed to outpatient? You need to ask how she came to this conclusion, and why she didn't feel more intensive treatment was needed.

What other family members can get involved in his life? Grandpa? Uncle? BIL? Cousin? What about the big brother/big sisters program?

What programs can he get into at school?
Do you have a wrap around program in your community?

Do you talk about the loss? It helps make it real. Then helps everyone feel about it and not deny the feelings. Sometimes it is hard to do and takes time.

On a good note, he reached out and told somebody. That is a big step.

I will be thinking and praying for you and your son.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Anchorage on

Let me start out by saying that I am a cutter. I have not engaged in self harm for a very long time, but there was a time in my life that I felt comfort in harming myself.

Find him a therapist that is experienced in helping those who self harm. Remember that his behavior is about him, not you, so don't focus on how his cutting makes you feel, but on how it makes him feel. A great book to read is "A Bright Red Scream: self mutilation and the language of pain" by Marilee Strong. Reading that book helped me understand my self so much better, so ask him to read it as well. Keep an open dialogue with him but make sure never to make his self harm about you, feeling guilt over it only makes it harder for him. When I used to cut it was because I felt so overwhelmed it was the only thing that helped me make sense of my emotions,or sometimes I just felt so numb inside that it reminded me I was still alive, it was a relief if even only for a moment. It was a tool to help me deal with emotions and events I just was not capable of dealing with any other way at the moment. Working with a specialist in self harm will help him to find new ways to deal with these emotions, but it may not completely end his self harm, in the end that will be up to him. This will be a long and scary road, please feel free to PM me if you have any questions you think I may be able to help you with.

I would also recommend individual counseling for yourself, you will have times you need to vent and you need a safe place to do so, and to help you so that you can better help him and be there for him.

Blessed Be

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

I'm so sorry.

It's my understanding that cutting is done, not as a suicidal act, but an act to "feel anything" when the cutter is emotionally overwhelmed or overloaded to the point that they feel numb.
I'm sure he's not attempting suicide, yet accidentally severing a vein or artery is a concern.

Definitely keep getting him tap therapist regularly!
Good luck!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Hartford on

It only takes one cut to land on the wrong spot. He doesn't even need to be trying to attempt suicide. Please, please get him into inpatient treatment immediately. Don't wait.

I have to agree that a therapist that would just recommend to get him another therapist and to keep an eye on him is not one you should keep in spite of the fact that your son was comfortable enough to tell him his darkest secret. I don't know what type of therapist he is, but your son needs intensive therapy with a psycho-therapist... a child psychiatrist trained in this sort of thing. That therapist should have made arrangements for inpatient before you left that appointment.

I would call your local hospital, especially if you have a children's hospital. They'll direct you to the psychiatric ward, most likely.

I'm sorry for the loss of your youngest son.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Denver on

I have a son going through this now. He is in individual therapy and will be starting a group in a few weeks. He has always been my one to not openly feel his feelings. He learned how to stuff how he was feeling and to pretend like everything was okay. It has caught up to him.

One of the main feelings that he is really struggling with is his anger. He really fears feeling this feeling more than any other and yet he knows that he has a lot of it just under the surface.

You are doing the right things. Family therapy is essential so continue with that. Also, both of you need individual help. You need the support to deal with your sense of helplessness. It is so hard to watch our children be in pain! He needs his own therapist. Let him choose. My son just changed therapists because he wasn't opening up to the male therapist he had. He switched to a female therapist and has already opened up more in just a couple of sessions.

I fortunately have a really great relationship with my son. He is turning to me when things get really ugly for him. He talks, I listen and validate. I support him and I don't try and fix him. I don't see him as broken, I see him in a great deal of pain. I also know that he can overcome this and I make sure I let him know that I believe in him.

A caution about meds: Be careful that you don't solely rely on medication. Too often we see people rush to put their children on meds and then the support stops there. Meds can sometimes help in the short-term to regulate someone so that then their therapy can be more effective. However, therapy must continue with a really good counselor that can support real change in the thinking patterns and the denial patterns that are the real cause of the problems.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on


Welcome to mamapedia!

I'm sorry for your loss. Losing a child is NEVER easy.

I do NOT have any personal experience in this and to be honest, hope never to have this kind of experience...I'm truly sorry.

Your son needs to be seen by a psychiatrist. He needs help. I would wonder if he's a candidate for in-house therapy...if he hates his life and is cutting...they might construe that as attempted suicide and take him in. To be honest, I believe cutting is a way for a person to feel something when they are soo depressed they are numb to feeling...losing a dad and a brother must be devastating to him. PLEASE seek an in-patient therapy for your son...

In the mean time? Keep all sharp objects under lock and key...if that means emptying out a drawer and putting ALL knives and sharp objects in and then installing a lock on the drawer? If it saves your it.

make sure the school knows what is going on.
Keep a VERY close eye on him...while you may trust him - if he's THAT depressed he will find a way to "feel" something.

Good luck! God Bless!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

Your son needs to be evaluated ASAP by a specialist who can help him stop the self harm and start figuring out how to deal with his internal struggles. If you're going to take him, as others have suggested, for evaluation for possible inpatient hospitalization, go to the ER at Children's Hospital where they are familiar with adolescents.

In Seattle there are some great groups that specialize in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. DBT helps people stop harming themselves and teaches skills for dealing with difficult feelings and coping. Google DBT and Seattle and you'll find contact info. They have both individual and group treatment and can help evaluate him and recommend appropriate treatment.

If you fear he might try to take his own life, that is a medical emergency and should be immediately evaluated in the Emergency Room or by calling 911.

The last few years sound pretty brutal for you and your son and I hope you both find your way to some respite and healing soon.

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