Why is Miley Cyrus Harming Herself?

The internet is abuzz with pictures of Miley Cyrus’ visible “side boob” at Clive Davis’ pre-Grammy party.

But blogger Perez Hilton pointed out something something much more disturbing in the photos – a series of scars above Miley’s left wrist on her inner forearm indicating self-harm.


This is not the first time that suspected cutting marks have been seen on Miley’s arm — suspicious marks were also apparent last July.

And Miley has certainly been thinking about cutting — last month she spoke out against an online prankster’s campaign to urge Justin Bieber fans to harm themselves after a picture of Justin smoking marijuana emerged.  #cutforbieber became a major Twitter trend afterwards, but Miley tweeted:

#cutforbieber? Cutting is NOT something to joke about. There are people who are actually suffering from self-harm, this is so disrespectful.

If Miley Cyrus is, or has been, engaging in self-harm, she certainly is not alone. Fellow Disney star Demi Lovato has been very open about her battle with the disorder. Other celebrities who have admitting to cutting include Fiona Apple, Russell Brand, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, Darrell Hammond and Drew Barrymore.

What is cutting, who does it and why?

Cutting is the most commonly used method for self-injury or self-harm where people use a sharp knife or razor to cut themselves on their arms, stomach and/or legs.

Thoughts of self-harm typically occur when a person is alone and experiencing negative thoughts or feelings such as worthlessness, anger, guilt, helplessness, rejection or self-hatred. It is widely believed that self-harm is done in most cases as a means of self-soothing stress relief or help-seeking.

According to experts:

  • Self-injurers make up nearly 1% of the population with a higher proportion of females than males.
  • The behavior typically begins around puberty.
  • Persons seeking treatment are usually from a middle to upper class background, of average to high intelligence and have low self-esteem.
  • Nearly 50% report physical and/or sexual abuse during their childhood.
  • As many as 90% of self-injurers say that they were discouraged from expressing emotions, particularly anger and sadness.

Is cutting a suicide attempt?

Cutting is usually considered a symptom of non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) in which the cutter has no intent to die.  But this is not a diagnosis to make on your own. If you or anyone you know has thoughts about hurting themselves, you must seek the help of a mental health professional.

Researchers such as Dr. Matthew Nock believe that cutting or NSSI is not itself a mental illness but rather a form of communication where actions speak louder than words.

What the warning signs that someone may be cutting?

Cutters typically often fiercely try to hide their cutting.  Warning signs that someone is injuring himself or herself include:

  • Unexplained frequent injury including cuts and burns
  • Wearing long pants and sleeves in warm weather
  • Low self-esteem
  • Difficulty handling feelings
  • Relationship problems
  • Poor functioning at work, school or home

How is self- injury diagnoses and treated?

For medical doctors and psychologists there are methods to test whether or not a person is engaging in deliberate self-harm. The most effective treatment for NSSI is most often a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication.

There are a number of interesting and useful books on NSSI including:

Click here to go the Resounding Health Casebook on NSSI.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.


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