A recent study in the Journal of Radiology found a new form of self-mutilation that is slowly become more common among teenagers today. Doctors are calling this new type of self-mutilation “self-embedding” behavior. This form of self-mutilation involves people taking items like small sharp pieces of metal, plastic, or crayon and puncturing their skin with the objects and/or putting the objects in the wounds after cutting.
The study looked at 600 patients who had received treatment for removing foreign objects embedded in soft tissue and found that 11 of these patients ranging from ages 14 to 18 were found to have engaged in this type of destructive behavior. Among the 11 patients, doctors found a total of 76 foreign objects that had been embedded in the patients’ arms, ankles, feet, hands, and/or neck. To remove the objects, doctors used a technique called “image-guided foreign body removal”. Because some of the objects could not be detected via an X-ray, doctors used ultrasounds to find these objects and performed small incisions to remove them from the patient’s body.
Statistics show that 13 to 23 percent of adolescents report a history of non-suicidal self-injurious behavior. However, these numbers could potentially be much higher in reality, due to the extreme shame and guilt that is associated with these types of acts. “Self-embedding is a less common form of self-injury than cutting,” says Joseph Garbely, chief medical officer at Friends Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “Teens who engage in self-mutilating behavior tend to have low self-esteem and problems dealing with their feelings”, he said. The primary reason that people engage in self-mutilating behaviors is to escape any feelings of negativity that they may be having in their lives. When this type of behavior takes place the body responds by releasing chemicals called endorphins that temporarily regulate painful emotions.
Often times teenagers will stop this self-destructive behavior on their on. In some cases teenagers continue to engage in this type of behavior, which could indicate a more serious mental illness such as borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD). While self-embedding is not generally a suicidal act, this type of behavior can cause the person to develop a skin infection, bone infection, or even a deep muscle infection.
If parents notice this behavior in their children, Garbley advises parents not to react with disgust or incredible concern. As long as there is no immediate health risk, parents should not take their kids to the emergency room. Instead parents should seek assistance from a therapist or mental health professional when possible.