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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

Robin Williams – Another Life Lost Through Mental Illness

Another Life Lost Through Mental Illness

I recently wrote about “Celebrities and Bipolar Disorder,” many of whom are also drug addicts, alcoholics and suicide victims – but the recent death of Robin Williams has brought the issue of other mental health disorders including depression – and suicide to the front of my mind once again.

Of course, you know that Robin Williams died of “asphyxiation” – notable suicide by hanging. At first we were shocked, then sad as a great talent was lost. In a few days, many people will become angry at him. Many people don’t understand depression; some don’t even believe it exists.

Robin Williams - Depression KillsRobin – and I call him that purposefully rather than the more proper journalistic reference “Mr. Williams” or simply “Williams” – has made an impact on my life and that of my children. Like many people, I felt like I knew him. I haven’t seen all of the 80 movies he was in, but my personal favorites were the movies that were not comedies. He was a gifted actor and a tremendously funny man.

I said I “felt” like I knew him – but I didn’t. My children “feel” like they knew him – but they didn’t. I don’t know much about his childhood – other than that he was raised in a family where, though there was probably plenty of money, he spent most of his time with nannies or alone. He obviously had a brain that never quit – which leads me to believe he may have had ADHD, he certainly had troubles with substance abuse and he had periods of severe depression, one of which led to his death.

People are already questioning why such a talented man – who had given so much – would “go and do something like that.” Many of those people will feel like he was selfish – as many people feel like suicide is the ultimate in narcissism. Under all that hilarity, under all that spectacle, under all that talent, was a seriously sad man.

Never mind what we don’t know about his childhood, over the course of his life he had great success and tremendous loss, with the making of fortune and fame and the loss of loved ones and money. He ultimately chose to end the pain himself.

Metally Ill - Robin WilliamsDepression is not something that can be shared and Robin was a “smiler.” Even in my life, though I am not a “smiler” – when I am having great difficulty, I do not contact the people who matter. I do not call my friends; I do not call my family; I sit in my difficulties alone.

Like many comedians, Robin learned to be funny to cover pain and to cover loneliness – and to get attention that he craved. Mental illness is difficult to understand and even though we mourn his loss – we should reflect on who in our lives might be feeling the same pain.

Maybe – likely not, but maybe, if he had the kind of support he needed, if he had not felt like he always needed to be “on” he would not have felt the despair so strongly. Maybe if mental illness and substance abuse weren’t still stigmatized, maybe he could have gotten the help he needed.

Maybe, but maybe not.

Another famous actor – once said in a famous movie – “Momma says that dyin’ is a part of livin’… I wish that it wasn’t.” Unfortunately, some people feel they must choose to die early. Robin did.

Melissa Lind

Another famous actor died because of mental illness

Bipolar Disorder and the Famous

Celebrities and bipolar disorder

Kurt Cobain - Bipolar MusicianKurt Cobain (1967-1994) American “Grunge” Musician – diagnosed with bipolar disorder and known drug abuse, suicide from self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Bipolar disorder can be a devastating disease.  Some people might also claim it is a gift in a sense.  There are a lot of famous people with bipolar disorder – and a lot more who are suspected of having it but have never been diagnosed – or just haven’t admitted it.

Kay Redfield Jamison is one of the most well-known people with bipolar disorder as she has been a pioneer in removing the stigma associated with the disease – and other mental health disorders.  Jamison is the author of the book Touched with Fire which has had resonance with people around the world, but she isn’t the only one.

People alive today that are known to have bipolar disorder

  •  Adam Ant (musician)
  • Russell Brand (comedian, actor)
  • Patricia Cornwell (author)
  • Richard Dreyfus (actor)
  • Patty Duke (actress)
  • Carrie Fisher (actress, author)
  • Mel Gibson (actor, director)
  • Linda Hamilton (actress)
  • Jesse Jackson Jr. (politician)
  • Margot Kidder (actress)
  • Debra LaFave (schoolteacher convicted for having sexual relations with student)
  • Jane Pauley (journalist)
  • Axl Rose (musician)
  • Britney Spears (singer-songwriter)
  • Ted Turner (media mogul)
  • Robin Williams (comedian, actor)
  • Catherine Zeta-Jones (actress)

Deceased

  • Kurt Cobain (musician, songwriter)
  • Ernest Hemingway (author)
  • Margeux Hemingway (actress, granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway)
  • Abbie Hoffman (activist)
  • Vivien Leigh (actress)
  • Marilyn Monroe (actress)
  • Sylvia Plath (poet)
  • Edgar Allan Poe (poet, author)
  • Jackson Pollock (artist)
  • Frank Sinatra (musician, actor)
  • Brian Wilson (musician)
  • Amy Winehouse (musician)
  • Virginia Woolf (writer)

This is only a short list of those who are known to have bipolar disorder as there are many more – and many more than that is suspect, including some who are alive today.  Mostly these are celebrities – known as bipolar only because they are famous.  We can guess who might have bipolar disorder through the news stories about repeated brushes with the law involving drug and alcohol abuse and bizarre behavior.  We can also look at the list of the deceased and see how many of those have died through suicide.

It seems that there are an abnormal amount of celebrities with bipolar disorder – or that more people with bipolar disorder are celebrities.  It is doubtful that either case is true, simply that the bipolar person is a “shiner” – usually amazing in their accomplishments at the best of times, and tremendously tragic at the worst of times.

In many cases, we learn of a famous case of bipolar disorder when a celebrity has a notorious (or repeated) encounter with the law – often involving alcohol or drug abuse.  Also in many cases, these encounters will continue until the person is diagnosed, incarcerated or dead – or a combination of these events.
Substance abuse and bipolar disorder often go hand-in-hand – whether this is because the person is self-medicating or because their brain tells them the rush is good.  Many people – not just celebrities “hide” behind substance abuse as an excuse for wild and unusual behavior.  Think of the celebrities who have gone on very public benders, breaking into houses, repeated visits to jail, long and dangerous rants in public, lewd and dangerous behavior.  This is not normal– even for a drunk.

It is a sad fact that substance abuse is more readily accepted today than a mental disorder – but it is.

Think about that the next time you hear of a celebrity doing something heinous – or a series of something’s heinous – or a celebrity committing suicide.

The Last 48 Hours of Kurt Cobain

Abuse, bizarre behavior and bipolar disorder often go hand-in-hand.