Self-Mutilating Teens Embed Pins, Needles in Skin

Some doctors are alarmed by what they see as a growing trend by adolescents to mutilate their bodies through "self-embedding" -- inserting shards of wood, glass or paper clips under their skin.

Other medical experts, however, claim the embedding of needles and other objects in the skin is not a new syndrome, but is part of a growing problem of self-injury that is gaining attention.

The grisly debate began last week after a report at the annual Radiological Society of North America conference described "self-embedding syndrome" as a new development. The report cited 10 teens in Ohio who had slipped a sharp object into their skin.

"I was just sitting in class. I was kind of getting the urge to cut, but knew I couldn't leave class right then," Allie W., 16, told in an e-mail interview. Allie, who is not one of the 10 Ohio teens in the Radiological Society report, asked that her full last name not be published for privacy issues.

"I had a safety pin in my purse and sometimes I scratch with that or something cutting, just less messy and less noticeable," she said. "So I was going to do that, but for some reason I decided to slide it under my skin."

At the time, Allie had been cutting for two years. She still self-mutilates, although she has tried to get help and support on cutting support groups online. Allie says she only rarely, and temporarily, embeds safety pins in her skin.

"I don't think it's any newer than cutting. To me it just seems like another form of cutting or self-injury," she wrote. "As for it being a disorder. ... I think it depends on if people think self-injury in general is a disorder. I personally don't think it is because it always stems from something else; it's more like a symptom."

Allie said that her symptoms are also an addiction.

Since the report was issued Dec. 3 at the Radiological Society's meeting, psychiatrists and psychologists who deal with self-injury have challenged that description.

"I know a lot of patients who have done this," said Wendy Lader, a clinical psychologist, co-founder and clinical director of the Self Abuse Finally Ends, or S.A.F.E. Alternatives in Denton, Texas.

Lader said, "The majority of self-injurers don't do one form of self-injury."

From a simple survey of patients at S.A.F.E. Alternatives, Lader estimates at least 5 percent of people she has treated for self-injury have embedded an object under their skin.

Self-Embedding Known, but Rare

"Is it the most common form of self-injury? No," said Lader. "But, I'm not quite sure why these particular radiologists are discovering this now."

The Ohio radiologists who presented the "self-embedding" assert they could not find evidence of this behavior anywhere.

"We've got a very large children's hospital, and we had not seen this disorder prior to 2005," said Dr. William E. Shiels, chief of the department of radiology at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

Besides a random handful of men piercing their eyes, Shiels said, "The medical literature has not had any reports [of self-embedding], ever."

"We even talked to our chief of psychiatry, and he talked to his colleagues around the country, and they haven't heard about this phenomenon," he said.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...