By Mike McMahan, LPC
Kudos to Geezer Butler for his honesty. Unfortunately, the rise of so-called “emo” culture is perceived to have increased prevalence of the self-harm activity known as “cutting.” This is exactly what it sounds like—purposely harming oneself with a blade or other instrument in order to cope with psychological pain. The stereotype of the person who engages in this behavior is the “teenage goth girl” and that this behavior is a relatively recent phenomenon. But, as with so many stereotypes, this masks the truth. Cutting and other self-harm behaviors don't discriminate, and can be present in any race, age or gender. Rock legend Geezer Butler, bassist for Black Sabbath, recently opened up about his own self-harm behaviors, which occurred during the band’s heyday in the early ‘70s.
There are actually two points of interest to mental health in this article. “I used to be a cutter,” Butler said. “I’d cut my arms, stick pins in my fingers, that kind of thing. I used to get really depressed and it was the only thing that could bring me out from it.” This type of explanation is typical of people who self-harm. They often report a sense of “de-realization” or distance from the world and that cutting, through the pain, eliminates that feeling and brings them back from this isolating feeling. Treatment for cutting generally involves psychotherapy and/or medication. I approach this issue by addressing the feelings generating the behavior (depression, anxiety, effects of trauma or a host of others) and gradually reduce the behavior by helping the client substitute the self-harm behavior for more healthy coping skills.
It is important to note that while most “cutters” don’t intend their actions to be suicidal, the behavior can be dangerous. Sometimes people cut deeper than intended which can cause damage to arteries, veins and tendons. In addition, if the wound is not seen my a medical doctor, there is the chance of infection.
I also appreciated Geezer’s statement from 2013 (cited in same article) that “Basically, it’s just about depression, because I didn’t really know the difference between depression and paranoia. It’s a drug thing; when you’re smoking a joint you get totally paranoid about people, you can’t relate to people. There’s that crossover between the paranoia you get when you’re smoking dope and the depression afterwards.” As marijuana moves toward legalization, it is important to realize that it is not completely benign. I do believe it is much safer than alcohol, for instance, but there are risks as well. Brains do not fully mature until approximately mid-20s, and marijuana may impact still-developing brains. In addition, while it has not been shown to cause psychosis, there seems to be a correlation between marijuana use and psychosis. It may be that for people who have underlying psychosis, that the use of marijuana and other drugs in the hallucinogen class triggers acute symptoms or a psychotic break. Acclaimed literary legend Kurt Vonnegut’s son, Mark, believes this to be the case and wrote of his experiences with mental illness in his excellent memoir, The Eden Express.
If you are facing any of the challenges outlined above, please speak to your doctor, a therapist or another mental health professional.
Mike McMahan is a psychotherapist based in San Antonio, Tx.
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Perspectives on therapy and mental health as viewed through the lens of popular culture