Why Do People Slit Their Wrists
In the movie “The Shining,” Jack Torrance, a writer and caretaker of his family’s hotel in Colorado, is haunted by ghosts that are drawn to him through the supernatural connection between his wife Wendy (played by Shelley Duvall) and her brother Danny (also played by Danny Lloyd). One night, when he tries to drive out one such ghost with an axe, it slips past him and into Wendy’s hand, which she then uses on herself. The next time we see Jack, he has slit his own wrists. This scene isn’t meant to be taken literally — the movie is full of surreal imagery — but it illustrates how easy it can be to take ordinary actions like slitting your wrists as a way to end your life rather than solve problems.
People have done this throughout history, though some cultures consider suicide more common than others. In Japan, where about one-third of all deaths result from self-harm each year, some people use a method called seppuku, ritualized disemboweling followed by slicing your throat. Suicide is much less common among Native Americans, who often try to ease their suffering with prayer. And while there are no definitive statistics on the number of American suicides committed by cutting, it’s estimated that around 1 million people attempt suicide annually.
One reason why so many people choose to kill themselves with knives, guns or other sharp objects is that they’re familiar implements. Guns and swords are weapons; you’ve probably used them before. Knives, razors and poison are everyday tools. You might even keep them handy at home. It’s easier to reach for these things than something far away, especially if you live alone. Many people also don’t trust anyone else enough to ask help from loved ones, friends or strangers. They think they’ll be rejected. Or maybe they just want to avoid asking for money. Some people simply don’t believe they deserve to live. Others suffer from severe depression and anxiety.
It’s important to remember that suicide should never be considered as a solution to problems. Instead, it’s best understood as a coping strategy. People who cut their wrists are usually doing their best to deal with difficult emotions, whether they’re feeling overwhelmed by stress or despair. However, they may not realize that there are safer, healthier options available to relieve their distress.
Self-cutting is most common during times of extreme psychological turmoil. But it may happen any time someone feels inadequate or hopeless. Cutting relieves physical tension, allowing the person to focus instead on what’s happening inside. Even if the cutter doesn’t understand exactly why he’s experiencing intense emotion, in the moment, it helps to alleviate whatever’s causing it.
Cutting can lead to long-term issues, however. For starters, those who injure themselves seriously may experience medical complications that require surgery. Second, it may make the problem worse over time. If someone cuts himself repeatedly, he could actually cause permanent damage to nerves and muscles. A person who attempts suicide once without injury may decide to do it again, believing the experience was meaningless. Third, since the act itself causes pain, it becomes associated with negative feelings, making future experiences seem unbearable. Finally, although many people recover fully after treatment, some develop post traumatic stress disorder, which affects up to 5 percent of survivors [sources: WebMD, Mayo Clinic].
If you’re having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273 TALKUP (800-273-8255), or call 911 right away. Dialing 911 first will ensure immediate professional assistance. Also, please note that our articles discuss coping strategies, not methods of suicide. If you’re contemplating hurting yourself in anyway other than overdosing on pills or using a gun, consult a physician or therapist immediately.
Slit Your Wrists Like Kate Greenaway
Kate Greenaway, an English artist whose books were popular children’s literature in the early 20th century, became famous for illustrations depicting young girls in Victorian garb holding open wide to reveal their inner worlds. Her drawings inspired generations of young readers to explore their feelings. Among the hundreds of stories written by Greenaway was “A Little Princess” in 1902. In it, the heroine, Anne, is sent to bed for being naughty. When her father comes downstairs to scold her, she cries out, “Please, papa, I’m unhappy!” He responds sympathetically, “I am sorry, my dear, I cannot find anything to blame in your room tonight.” Then he goes upstairs to look for evidence of misbehavior. After searching everywhere, he returns empty handed. Anne tells him she wants to die. Later, she takes a knife and pours honey on her finger. She puts the tip of the blade against her skin and pushes down hard until blood gushes forth. As the story ends, she looks at her mangled finger and says, “Oh! How nice!” We learn later that Anne survived her ordeal.
What does this say about the power of images? Perhaps Greenaway’s simple illustration helped to create a mental image of what would happen if someone tried to hurt herself. Maybe seeing the blood pouring from her finger made her feel as if it had happened.
Or perhaps she drew inspiration from another source entirely. An 1881 book titled “Suicide Club Secrets,” attributed to J. B. Priestley, contains passages describing the author’s own suicide attempt. At age 19, Priestley attempted to end his life by drinking chloroform laced with morphine. He woke up two days later in a hospital bed. What did he learn from his experience? That it’s possible to survive a suicide attempt, provided you have the support of family members.
For further information on self-injury and related topics, check out the next page.
If you enjoyed reading this article and would like to see similar ones,