Officials say self-harm among Utah students a growing problem

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah kids as young as 9 are cutting themselves, and in some cases it's happening in school.

A Glendale Middle School student opens up to FOX 13 News about what he witnessed in class, and why his mother wants change.

It stems from an incident in February when the kid saw another student cutting his arm with a razor. His mother is upset with how the school handled the situation. FOX 13 News decided to go a step further and investigate how big of problem this is in schools like Glendale and what's being done about it.

"We're sitting in class and doing math, and I see a kid pull out a razor blade and he starts like he was going to put it on his hand and then he sliced it, and I just walked away because I didn't want to see all the blood," said the 6th grade Glendale Middle School student who doesn't want anyone to know who he is, scared that if his classmates find out he'll be made fun of.

Still, the 11-year-old found the courage to tell his mother about what he witnessed in late February.

"They didn't care; it was just another day at Glendale," said the Mother in an interview with FOX 13 News’ Nineveh Dinha.

The mother wanted her identity concealed, but she also wanted the school and the public to know she is angry at a word the assistant principal used.

"She proceeds to just tell me that she hates to use this word, she said, ‘oh, it's trendy.’"

The mother said it wasn't until she contacted Michael Clara, a board member with the Salt Lake City School District, that the principal finally talked to her son, four days later.

In an email obtained by FOX 13 News through a GRAMMA request, the assistant principal writes to Clara, "I'm so sorry if I sounded too casual with her. Please know we do not take this issue lightly."

"I think the way that it came across for the mom certainly didn't work," said Chris Gesteland, the principal at Glendale Middle School. He said the student who was seen cutting himself in class was taken care of the day it happened. Only problem is, no one bothered to tell the parent whose son reported it.

"He was not the only student that reported it, so that student was taken care of the moment we got a report about the cutting,” Gesteland said. “That's one of the conversations that we've now had as an administration, both here at school and also at the district level, what is our obligation to report to parents?”

The concerned parent and Mom of the son who witnessed his classmate cutting says no one has told her anything.

"Nothing I know of,” she said. “The only thing I do know of is he talked to my son."

FOX 13 News wanted to know, since the assistant principal said cutting was "trendy" how prevalent is it in Utah schools? We looked at Glendale Middle. Documents reveal more than a dozen incidents from November 2013 through February 2014.

In an email from a Mountain View Elementary School counselor to an unknown recipient there was a conversation about a female student cutter.

It said, "Part of her not taking her sweater off is that she has cuts on her arms."

"It's definitely a problem. We are seeing it more and more," said Bonnie Peters, who is a licensed clinical social worker for The Family Support Center, which serves people who need financial assistance for a number of issues, including mental health. "No parent is immune. I don't care what socioeconomic status they're in. It is across the board."

Peters said while parents should be talking to their kids about what cutting is, it's a topic too taboo for some families and there should be a safe place for them to open up, like in school.

"I feel that mental health issues definitely has a place in that curriculum, somehow, someway,” Peters said.

Glendale Middle School's principal knows some of his students are cutters and said those kids are getting the help they need, through counselors. Sometimes however, these pre-teens slip through the cracks, and it's up to parents to know the warning signs.

"As they see the blood that's the release," said Peters of cutters. "It mostly affects adolescent females, although males can do it also."

Sometimes the kids are as young as 9 years old.

"Cutting themselves lets them feel something,” Peters said. “Kids, people generally cut themselves because of the pressures they are feeling and many times they are numb. They have so much going on inside of them they have just numbed out. There's different things you can do besides cutting, you can burn yourself, you can do any number of things, use pencils. It's horrific the things you can do to hurt yourself.”

Social Workers said the cutting is often times hidden.

"Parents should be looking for if kids are wearing long sleeves." Another red flag, according to Peters, is being withdrawn.

"This has not been an open topic of conversation,” Gesteland said. “It never was in school for me. It never even was as recent as last year.”

The State Legislature recently passed a law, requiring schools to include suicide prevention as part of the curriculum.

"What the suicide prevention conversations have done for us has allowed us to really open the door to those subjects that are uncomfortable for people to talk about," said Gesteland, who knows cutting is an issues some of his students face. That's why they've partnered with Valley Behavioral Health.

"Valley partners in all five Salt Lake County school districts," said Susan Pizitz, who is the Program Manager for school based mental health services. "Kids do compare their cuts with one another. My therapists report, that work in schools, that it becomes a point of commonality in terms of how they share that they've got a lot of stress in their lives and it's a way they can identify with one another."

"I don't think there's ever enough awareness," said Misty Suarez, the Director of Student Services at the Salt Lake City School District.

She said they are making progress, hosting seminars for parents about difficult subjects like cutting.

"It is part of the topics that we talk about,” she said. “The key is educating both students and parents because a lot of times people don't know what to do when you see a student cutting. When you have a child of your own cutting, what do you do?"

For the Glendale Middle School student who witnessed another kid cutting, telling someone was the right thing to do.

"I wanted to go to the principal, but I wanted to go to my mom first, because I trust her more than anybody," he said.

Still, his mother said schools aren't doing enough. She thinks parents should be notified about problems like self-harm.

"They need to take every case seriously and none of the kids at school have had any kind of assembly talking about it, nothing and there's no resources for them really,” she said. “They don't know, they can talk to somebody at school."

"Cutting yourself is not necessarily suicidal behavior. The kids that do this don't generally want to kill themselves. They are doing it for release," says Peters, who believes the conversation starts at home but that schools have some responsibility too.

Peters believes in most cases cutters can make a full recovery, they just need someone to turn to.

"It can be taken care of, but it takes a little while and you've got to get to the root cause, the core of what's going on inside, why they have such intense emotions, why they're suffering their emotions and they can't feel anything," Peters said. "Got to get to that cause."

Social Workers said getting into a mental health professional can be the key to the cure. She also said if a child talks to their mom or dad about cutting, the parent really needs to be calm and come from a place of love and understanding.

12 comments

  • Stefany Uriostegui

    Hello , my name is Stefany . I am a 13 year old girl . I use to go to Glendale before I got expelled . The reason why I am leaving a comment is because I went threw cyber bulling because of some rumors that spread around Glendale . And I have cut before . So here let me tell you why this kids cut . Well actually this is why I would cut . Let me guess ? You think what when someone is cutting there are wildy cutting ? No. Once that razor splits that skin , that’s why I most calm down . It’s like people on drugs when their mad or stressed they do drugs . Why ? Cause it calms then down . So I’m just letting you know that I know what it feels like to be suicidal . 😏 back to me . When I got expelled from Glendale these rumors spreads right ? So then people would message me threw Facebook saying your a whore , dumbass , slut , etc . That would hurt my feelings because they don’t know what I’ve been threw . Anyways my mom went to the school many times to tell them that those kids were calling me names threw the internet & threatening my that they were gonna beat me up . What did they do ? Nothing . ” just another day at Glendale” all I’m saying is that school is very inreponsible. & deserves to take action . Cause i gratuntee you that there’s so many kids in that school that cut . & I know many of them .

  • Mickey Bitsko

    I did my share of stupid stuff when I was a kid, but this absolutely mystifies me. If you “need” to cut yourself you have a screw loose. Get help.

  • Becka B

    Cutting is a huge problem in todays schools. I was affected by it in junior high and so were a lot of my friends. We confided in eachother because we thought that no one cared about us. And having somone near that knows what your going through was what helped us through it. We need more outreach programs that deal with this problem. The schools need to step in and offer help for those who need it. After all that what the counselors are there for

  • Becky

    Venture Acadamy High School in Slatterville has a cutting problem. My child is one of them. Administration is aware of it, but no one knows what to do about it. Someone on a state level needs to address the problem that is taking over in this new generation. This is no different than drugs, drinking or smoking. These kids seem to run in groups. They Take care of each other, bring medical supplies to schools, bandage eachother up. And the more attention they get the more they cut.

    • Mickey Bitsko

      I don’t understand why it’s the school’s problem.

      Has anyone tried PUNISHMENT? As in, “If I find a fresh scar you don’t get that thing you wanted”?

      • Sara b

        Punishment? Think about that… If the child has some mental issues or even if they don’t. Do you really think punishing them will ge them to stop??

  • Mom for Understanding

    As pleased as I am that this issue is being discussed, it is frightening that the sterotype that kids cut for attention is being pertuated by this article and comments!!!!!

    Depression/anxiety is a real disease that in some children and teens manifests itself with physical sense of pressure in the arms. It can be described as feeling as though the arms are being blown up like a balloon and it hurts so much that you have to relieve the pressure some how – “logically” if you pop a balloon, the pressure is released; if you cut the arm, the pressure is released. The brain is an amazing and powerful organ that we have yet to even begin to understand and does trick us (i.e. phantom limb pain).

    Yes, the schools are woefully lacking in educating their students about depression and all the different ways it might manifest itself. My children have been taught in health classes that if they lack energy, purposefully isolate themselves, are always sad, then it is depression. This is only one “type” of depression. Society must change it’s attitudes about depression and treat it with the same care and concern we do cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc. This disease is also about the difference between life and death.

  • AlisaMarie

    Hello this subject touches home plate with me. I started cutting in the 3rd grade. I stppped four years ago when it lead to 4 hospitalizations four suicide attempts. I was in treament foster care and I haven’t looked back. I graduated with my class thanks to my amazing school teachers who helped me get though it! (George Washington high in Ogden) I now work for Ogden city school district .it wasnt because it was”trendy I have also seen the increase in cutting . In family and others around. It is a definite problem. I try my best to be there for others and so far have helped two people overcome this. I hope change comes soon!

  • northwest middle school

    I’m 14 and go to northwest middle school over in rose park. I like what my school and the health teacher among with the counselors are doing about this problem. Every 8th grader takes a health class for a semester and through out this semester we learn a variety of important things. What part of what we learn involves mental health issues. Well the teacher we have over there is totally amazing it’s actually surprising how much I love and trust my health teacher she’s like my mom so loving and caring ♡ well she told us that if we knew about someone that was cutting or if one of is was cutting to tell her or the counselors. If you tell on a student the counselors will talk to that student without revealing the name of who told on them. The counselors are really nice and they don’t judge you or anything and I know because I got told on. But now I’m greatly thankful for who ever told on me. I honestly think northwest handles this problem pretty good and other schools should have something like this.

  • Sara B

    This subject really hits home with me.. I have been a cutter since 5th grade.I am now 22, this subject NEEDS to be taken seriously, by the school AND the parents. They need to work together. The parents should get their children into some sort of conseling ASAP. If your child is cutting DO NOT IGNORE IT!!!! Cutting is just as much as an addiction as drugs and alcohol. Parents need to take action as soon as they realize if their child is cutting, Dont wait…

  • Concerned Parent

    I agree with this Mother there is so much lack of communication between this schools staff and the parents of students they do not notify the parents of anything, and it is always the response of this is just a trendy thing and “another day at Glendale”

Comments are closed.