Teens in Crisis: Cutting on the Rise

"When I first started, I wish I'd have seen someone that had scars all over their arms that could tell me what it's like to live their life with scars, you know what I mean, 'cos I'd never heard that when I first started 'cos now that's exactly what's on my mind ... Like I haven't been to the beach in like so many years, you know what I mean, I haven't got in a bathing suit in front of anybody ... You know it was really hot last summer — I wore sweaters every single day. It's like a hundred degrees outside and I'm walking around in a sweater, you know."

Meet Jaime, 17, who is among the ranks of teenage girls who repeatedly injure themselves by cutting their skin — their arms, their backs, their bellies.

Jaime, whose problems started when she took a disliking to herself around the age of 12, lived with other "cutters" at L.A.-based Vista Del Mar — the nation's first residential program dedicated to treating adolescent girls who self-injure.

Studies, of which there are few on the subject, suggest that some 2 to 3 million Americans are self-injurers.

And that number is rising. Health-care officials report that self-injury cases have doubled in the past three years. And as life becomes more complex for teenagers, therapists expect the number will continue to rise.

"I believe it's of epidemic proportions now — it's far reaching into middle schools now," says Andrew Levander, clinical director of the self-injury treatment program at Vista Del Mar.

"Everybody's hand goes up when you ask them if they know someone who cuts themselves — everybody knows somebody. Every therapist has one on their caseload or has a colleague who does."

The Question Is Why...

...Would anyone deliberately want to hurt her- or himself?

"The short answer," says Levander, who developed the treatment program at Vista Del Mar, "is because it works as a coping mechanism. It immediately alleviates tension, stress and depression. It's like self-medication with a drug."