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Dr. Michael
Dr. Michael, Psychologist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 2177
Experience:  Licensed Ph.D. Clinical Health Psychology with 30 years of experience in private practive and as a clinical psychology university professor.
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My 14 yr old son is having some issues right now. In past

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My 14 yr old son is having some issues right now. In past few days his anger has gotten worse, I found out he tried cutting himself once recently because so many other people do it. His friends are abandaning him and he lost a girl friend. I've tried to call a couple of mental health clinics but got answering machine or they couldn't get him in for month or two. How can I deal with this since I can't stay with him every second. I'm afraid of him harming himself. He wants to just stay in his bedroom upstairs constantly, by himself. Advice would be most appreciated!
Submitted: 6 years ago.
Category: Mental Health
Expert:  Dr. Michael replied 6 years ago.
Hello. I believe I can be of help to you with this issue.

Most people who self-injure do so because it helps them regulate highly aversive emotions. That is, people who cut or purposely burn themselves have not learned healthier ways to cope with terribly painful or aversive emotions. The causes of these emotional problems are being placed in situations in which they feel extreme emotional distress and perceive that they are utterly helpless to change the awful life situation or escape it. Such situations are for example,major emotional or personal losses, living in a violent or intensely contentious family circumstance; being physically or sexually abused as a child or adolescent, or any other inescapable, "helpless" situation that involves intense upset, stress and depression.

Research suggests that self-injurers are not intent on committing suicide; self-injury distracts them from feeling badly; it can help change their feeling state if they focus on the cut and blood flow; some report that cutting themselves relieves their feelings of emotional numbness. So there are many purposes served by self-injury which may vary a bit from person to person; but emotion regulation and as a way to indirectly express hurt feelings is the best general explanation. It is true that a few self-injurers inflict plain on themselves to escape or avoid work (e.g., obtain disability payments), or to obtain the care and attention of employers, health care workers, etc. (this is called Munchausen's syndrome when it becomes extreme). Teens will sometimes self-injure to draw attention to their distress, because they don't feel like they can verbally request it.

If you wish to try to be helpful, you can explain that you suspect your son's self-injury is certainly tied to the disappointments he has experienced in his social world. Since it is very hard to deal with feelings of hurt and anger, you are aware that he may be harming himself to regulate stress and difficult emotions, and perhaps ask for help and understanding. Let me pause here and prompt you to respond and react to what I've said so far.
Customer: replied 6 years ago.
Thank you for your reply. If most mental health experts are booked up, but I need to get him in to speak with someone immediately, where do I take him? That's one of the issues that feels most discouraging.
Expert:  Dr. Michael replied 6 years ago.
Where do you live; I will see if I can dig up some referral info for you.

Whether it occurs quite soon (on your own), or with a therapist helping your son, it will be important for him to understand how you construe his self-injurious behavior, how you understand it, and why it is happening. This will provide him with an opening or an 'invitation' to talk specifics about the issues he is feeling hopeless and helpless about (even though you can probably guess what most of these things are). The simple act of having a caring adult really listen and hear him out----no advice-giving or evaluative commentary on what he says at this time---just listening and empathizing, can be really, really helpful.
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