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Cutting – An Actual Mental Disorder

Non-Suicidal Self-Injury

A lot of people are shocked and horrified at the thought of self-mutilation and for many years “cutting” was categorized only as a symptom of Borderline Personality DisorderBPD, as you may know, has symptoms of unstable personal relationships, impulsivity, and extreme mood changes (different from Bipolar disorder as they can change on a dime and swing wildly).

The new issue of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition or DSM-5, includes it as a separate diagnosis of Non-Suicidal Self-Injury (NSSI).  Research has suggested that NSSI can occur independently of BPD but is also often a co-existing or co-morbid illness, occurring alongside BPD, Bipolar Disorder, one of the many anxiety disorders or with other disorders such as anorexia or bulimia.

Cutting DisorderI am the mother of pre-adolescent children – who are beginning to believe they know all about people who act “weird” or do “weird” things (their words, not mine).  My daughter has recently talked about the “EMO” kids – which as a dumb mom, I had to figure out was a social group of kids who were “emotionally dark.”  She includes in her description of an “EMO” as “you know, like kids who are cutters.”  It is stereotypical to think that they all wear black clothing and heavy eyeliner – as some may – but many do not.

Some people who have the disorder would never be suspected of such – but then we are also sometimes surprised when someone who seems to have everything commits suicide, only to find that under the polished exterior was extreme anguish.  Often, cutting will be dismissed as a “stage” and it may be a “stage” – but often it is not.  Many patients – have arms or hips full of patterned scars – proving that it is often a condition all to itself.

Cutting Disorder - Mental IllnessSelf-mutilation most often starts in the early teen years when adolescent emotions are at their height – but often extends well into adulthood.  The majority of “cutters” are female – but not all.  There is often a co-existing mental illness and may have a family history component – but also often occurs following events of abuse – including sexual, physical or emotional abuse.  Sudden life changes such as unemployment or divorce – and isolation may trigger an occurrence.

People who “cut” often express a desire to “feel” as if they cannot truly attach to their own emotions.  Others will say they “cut” to kill the pain – this is because the act of producing pain also causes the body to release endorphins (the body’s natural painkiller) that makes them feel better.  Unfortunately, even though the action may induce temporary euphoria – it is often followed by guilt and a return of the negative feelings.

NSSI is defined as:

• 5 or more days of intentional self-inflicted damage to the surface of the body without suicidal intent – in the past year.
Patients must be intending to:
o Seek relief from negative feelings or thoughts and/or
o Resolve interpersonal problems and/or
o Induce a positive emotional state
• The behavior must be associated with 1 of:
o Interpersonal problems
o Negative thoughts or feelings
o Premeditation
o Ruminating on injury (obsession)

NSSI includes not only “cutting” but also burning, hitting or punching, head banging, biting, non-aesthetic piercing or carving of skin (tattoos and body piercing don’t apply), pulling out hair or other “topical” mutilation.  If a patient has expressed suicidal thoughts or shows suicidal tendencies – it is not classified as NSSI as the intent of a person with NSSI is not to commit suicide.
NSSI should be first viewed as a serious medical condition that truly requires treatment.  It may be resolved by treating an existing co-morbid psychiatric condition – but likely it will also require psychotherapy to resolve some of the underlying issues.

Definition of Self-injury/cutting (Mayo Clinic)

Cutting and Self-Harm: Warning Signs and Treatment (WebMD)

If you see signs of NSSI or “cutting” in a child, teen, or adult that you know – encourage them to seek help.

Melissa Lind (WriterMelle)

An Actual Mental Disorder – Cutting

Getting Out of Depression

Some tips to get you out of depression

Major depression is the third most common mental disorder in the US.  Nearly 7 percent of the US population is affected in any one year.  Incidentally, if you are keeping track, the two most common mental disorders are Anxiety disorders and Phobia disorders, including Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Major Depression, also called Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) has an average onset of 32 years of age and is more common in women than in men.  It is also called “unipolar depression” by those who are familiar with Bipolar disorder.  It may include a subset of depressive disorders such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which affects people yearly – usually in the winter and Dysthymic Disorder, which is a less severe form of depression.

In order to be diagnosed with Major Depression, a person must meet the DSM criteria including at least five of the following for at least two weeks:
•    Depressed mood most of the day
•    Diminished interest in all or most activities
•    Significant, unintentional weight loss or gain
•    Insomnia or sleeping too much
•    Agitation or psychomotor retardation (slow movement) noticeable by others
•    Fatigue
•    Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
•    Diminished ability to think or indecisiveness
•    Suicidal thoughts

In some cases, depression can be relieved by changes in lifestyle or with psychotherapy, but in severe cases – medication may be warranted.  We are fortunate today in that there are a number of effective medications that have fewer side effects than previous treatments, and the category continues to evolve.

Even with medication – that may not begin working for at least several weeks – some lifestyle changes, and habits may help a person “emerge” from their depression and manage symptoms in the future.

Major DepressionLifestyle changes are difficult, particularly when depressed, but the effort it takes to “soldier through” is worth it in the end.  These tips for helping with depression are not easy – especially when you do not have any energy and don’t feel like getting up, but even though they may not provide a cure – they almost always provide some help.

  1. Get up and move – this is the hardest for most people to do.  It may take a tremendous amount of efforts but even simply getting off the couch or out of bed and walking around the house will help.  Getting up and moving around will increase your blood flow and heart rate will help increase blood flow to your brain and may convince your body that “hibernation” is over.
  2. Get dressed – you may have been wearing the same clothes for many days.  Changing into a “daytime” outfit can help regulate your time clock and may help you feel like you can accomplish something.  If you wear makeup or fix your hair, do so – and by all means, take a shower.
  3. Get out in the sun – don’t stay long enough to get a sunburn but studies have shown that bright light helps your brain wake up.  It resets your internal clock by adjusting your melatonin levels (a hormone responsible for inducing sleep).  It also triggers a “springtime” effect – that again tells your brain and body that winter is over, and it is time to come out of hibernation.
  4. Talk to a friend – making a phone call may not be tops on your mind, but even a wordless chat can help you feel like someone else is aware of your existence.
  5. Watch something enjoyable – even if you don’t want to enjoy anything, do something that would normally make you happy.  Just a little bit of happiness peeking through can go a long way.
  6. Go to bed and get out of bed at normal hours – sleep patterns are often destroyed by depression.  Reestablishing those normal patterns will help reset your internal clock to a natural level.
  7. Don’t take naps – again with both the normal sleeping hours and with the “getting up.”  Reinforcing physiologic habits will help establish normal brain functioning.
  8. Eat healthily – you may want to eat everything, nothing, or only certain foods.  Likely, no matter how much or how little you are eating, you are deficient in some of the necessary vitamins and nutrients – so eating a healthy diet and taking a multivitamin mineral supplement is a good idea.  B vitamins are especially helpful to restore nerve cell functioning, C and E are useful for combating inflammation that can cause sluggishness, D vitamins are useful to aid in the “sunlight” phenomenon discussed before, Calcium and Magnesium are good for the brain cells which are malfunctioning.

Most people who are depressed will find a lot of these activities difficult – and you may only be able to do one or two a day.  None of this is meant to be insulting, but there is science behind all of it – and others have been through it before.
With the help from the medication and the lifestyle adjustments – you will feel like you are coming out of the fog – and be able to do all of them – or sometimes, choose not to.  Choosing not to do something is different than feeling like you are unable to do something – and you want to have control of your life.

– Melissa Lind