An Unsettling Sight…
A student who appears with recent cuts visible on their body may be in distinct emotional distress and must immediately be referred to the guidance counselor. Even if the student makes excuses for the cuts such as a cat that scratched them, the teacher should schedule an immediate appointment at guidance for them. Give the school counselor or psychologist a chance to talk with the student. Don’t wait; get help immediately. Teenage problems often escalate suddenly. Cutting may be a sign of depression or suicidal thoughts.
Then, even if it is just a few days later, if you spot fresh cuts on a student send them back to the counselor or psychologist. A teacher must be proactive when a student may be in crisis. Teenagers who cut themselves are in some sort of severe emotional turmoil. Hand the student over to the school psychologist who has far more training than teachers in handling the student in crisis. Later that day, meet with the school psychologist to learn more about the reasons behind cutting. Keep a log of all incidents of sending the student to the guidance counselor or psychologist due to seeing cutting evidence.
Possible Reasons for Cutting
The Free Library.com offers the following information about possible causes of cutting. “Life experiences that correlate with self-injurious behavior include losing a parent, family violence, childhood sexual abuse or rape, childhood illness…and history of self injury in the family." (Conterio et al, 1998, Deiter et al, 2000).
When the student returns to class, do make an effort to pair him or her with students who are a positive influence during group work and partner activities.You may also wish to find a journal to give to the student. Journal-writing is often very therapeutic and calming for a student in crisis.
Also keep a very close eye on the use of the “hall pass" by this student. Keep track of when they leave the room, and if they are out of the room for too long alert the main office. Students may engage in cutting behavior in school restrooms; thus students with a cutting history must not be allowed to roam the building too freely.
Stay in close contact with the parents when a student is in crisis due to cutting behavior or any self destructive or acting out tendencies. Keep a log of all parent contact and ensure you know the current state of any special instructions for interacting with the student.
Conterio, et al, Bodily Harm, 1998, NY, Hyperion.
Deiter, PJ, et al, Self-Injury and Self Capacities, J Clin Psych, 56, 1173-1191, 2000.