Jamaican Teens engaging in Self-mutilation

A 17-year-old high school student who posted photographs of reportedly self-inflected cuts on social media late last week has elicited urgent calls from mental health professionals for more to be done in schools, and in society in general, to address what they describe as an emerging trend of self-mutilation among Jamaican teenagers.

Cutting is a form of self-injury or self-abuse in which an individual deliberately uses a sharp object to cut the skin and inflict pain.

The girl, who hails from an inner-city community in Kingston and who confessed that she has been cutting her hands since grade nine, on Thursday posted on her WhatsApp status, photographs of her bloodied hand and a razor.

Even more disturbing was a photograph in which the teen used her blood to write ‘DEATH’ and captioned it “Am waiting on you”.

When the Jamaica Observer contacted the teen she expressed wanting to die and said she thinks about committing suicide, although she has not so far made any attempts.

According to her, she cuts herself to take away the pain she experiences, which she said is a result of verbal abuse from her mother, siblings, cousins, grandmother, and aunt.

“Is like she (mother) always a cuss mi and people inna mi yard, and mi nuh really like that, so is like when mi sad mi just cry and cut up mi hand. Mi cyaa do anything else,” she said.

When asked to give examples of some of the things they say to her, the teen said: “Like say mi naa no use and me shouldn’t deh here, and dem regret say me a dem family — one bag a sum’n.”

Interestingly, the teen said that her mother and officials at her school are aware of her cutting herself.

She said her mother previously questioned her about it, but she told her, “No reason,” and that was the end of the story.

At school, the student said she had started counselling but discontinued.

“Me did a do counselling, but mi stop ’cause nobody did come back to me ’bout it,” she said.

She also told the Observer that this was not the first time she was posting pictures of her cuts on social media, and that people who saw it told her to stop. But, she said, she needs help to do so.

Asked why she chose cutting, the teen said she got the the idea after seeing pictures on the Internet.

A guidance counsellor who works at a junior high school in Kingston, and who asked that her name be withheld for this story, theorises that the teen’s action is really a cry for help.

“It means that this child wants to relieve her pain through cutting, yes, but it’s also a cry for help and it’s not something that should be overlooked,” she said.

“I have only had one experience so far at my current place of work, but during my time working at a traditional high school, a prominent high school in Kingston, five years ago, there were many cases of teenagers cutting themselves; at least four out 10, and one dominant reason teenagers self-mutilate is because they are going through strong emotional pain, maybe from their parents divorcing, maybe they were raped or abused sexually or physically, or they are just having internal problems which causes them to be depressed,” the counsellor explained.

Well-known psychiatrist Dr Wendel Abel agreed that cutting is an emerging trend in the island, primarily among girls who have been sexually abused, are depressed, or have deep psychology issues.

He agreed, too, that it is a cry for help and urged students to talk through their problems with a professional or another trusted adult so that issues can be addressed. Dr Abel also explained that the practice of cutting is a learned behaviour, suggesting that it can be unlearned.

The junior high school counsellor, meanwhile, said that teens who self-harm do so as a way of relieving the strong emotional pain they experience and not with the intention to commit suicide. At the same time, however, she said cutting could lead to suicide if the teens involved do not get the help that they need to relieve their pain.

“I don’t think it is talked about a lot in schools, and in general. I don’t think that parents are educated about things like these. There needs to be more peer education and parent education where this topic is highlighted and discussed so that parents and teens can be better able to cope.

“I also think teens needs to be educated on how to treat with students who are going through this and how to be supportive instead of saying mean stuff about the child, which might push the child to further self-mutilate. They need to understand what it is all about so that they can lend support and also bring the issue to the attention of a guidance counsellor or an adult when they become aware of it,” she said.

The counsellor also pointed out that it is imperative that when a guidance counsellor becomes aware of a child who is self-mutilating, that counsellor should ensure there is immediate consultation with the child and his or her parents, and if necessary, they be referred for counselling.

“It can’t take one counselling session,” the counsellor stressed. “It has to be a number of sessions and, based on the problem itself, it’s best that the child be referred to a psychologist or a psychiatrist because there can also be mental issues involved.”

The Observer sought intervention from the Child Protection and Family Services Agency on the teen’s behalf on Thursday but there was no immediate response.


This piece was originally published onJune 4, 2018 in The Jamaica Observer by Tanesha Mundle