In It For Health

Where health and psychology intersect

cutting research-sort of…

Posted by Dr. Susan on March 11, 2008

A newly reported study about cutting looks at the relationship between girls who cut, their serotonin levels and their relationships with their mothers. I VERY reluctantly provide this link to the Science Times which, in such unbelievably irresponsible reporting, in it’s headline, makes it seem as if it is primarily a poor mother-daughter relationship that leads a girl to cut. Thankfully, in the body of the article this is cleared up–in fact, the relationship between cutting and serotonin levels is stronger than that between cutting and a conflictual mom-daughter relationships. The combined relationship is the strongest.  Okay this makes sense. What isn’t explained, at least in the Science Times, is whether the girls had high serotonin levels before they began cutting (i.e.–they were predisposed to becoming cutters) or whether the cutting behavior changed their serotonin. Do the researchers know this? Next, I treat cutters–lots of cutters, so I know that their are MANY things that stress a cutter out, not just their relationship with their mothers. Yes, this can be a factor, but these researchers could just have easily studied dads, boyfriends, biology teachers, waking up early for school, finding the perfect outfit to wear…it’s possible that any of these, when combined with a teen biologically predisposed to cutting, could significantly increase the odds of her becoming a cutter or triggering an episode. Last, but not least, being a cutter does NOT make you suicidal. In fact, the vast majority of cutters do so to reduce their anxiety, depresssion or other emotional pain, sometimes to help themselves avoid becoming suicidal. This is part of why it is addictive. Other than this…not such a bad article, uh yeah.

4 Responses to “cutting research-sort of…”

  1. Have you looked at the study in question? It’s far more sensible and filled with caveats than the Science Daily report on it. The full text of the article is linked from Dr. Beauchaine’s University of Washington homepage:

    Whether these adolescents had high serotonin levels before starting to self-injure is not something the study was able to look at, or as the article says:

    “Although longitudinal data sets will ultimately be needed to identify developmental trajectories in SII, cross-sectional research identifying interactions between biological and psychological variables may help guide future studies.”

  2. Dr. Susan said

    Thanks for the link! I just read the article which definitely is better–of course–thank the sensationalizde Science Times article. However, it doesn’t really change my questions–what causes the serotonin changes? And why ALWAYS target moms as the cause of everything? just some things to wonder about? In addition, the researchers make a HUGE and I think incorrect leap in their intro. linking suicide w/ cutting so directly and rationalizing this research based on that. The research is viable w/out needing to make the incorrect stretch that self-injury leads to suicide.

  3. Dr. Susan said

    …also cutting is often seen in those who have been sexually or physically abused in the past (having nothing to do w/ arguing with their moms) and girls with eating disorders sometimes cut (not saying one causes the other. this speaks to a possible biological and/or environmental argument for ED’s and cutting) both of which may, arguably have something to do with their moms, but it’s so unclear because there are so many other factors to consider.

  4. I’m not sure that linking suicide to cutting is exactly a leap. Self-injury obviously doesn’t directly lead to suicide and the vast majority of teenagers who self-injure don’t go on to kill themselves. It is true, however, that people who kill themselves are more likely to have a history of self-injury than people who die in other ways. So self-injury is a risk-factor for later suicide.

    I’m as mystified by the focus on mother-daughter relationships as you are.

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