It's potentially life-threatening behavior that children, mostly girls as young as 11 years old, are engaging in, often hidden away from parents, teachers and other adults.
"Cutting" is a form of self-harm that has been around for decades, but as ABC Action News has discovered it has recently been growing at an alarming rate here in the Tampa Bay area.
Social media, movies and music videos are driving this dangerous practice from dark bedrooms into the mainstream.
Experts say it's important to stop it early before young lives are ruined.
“It was a very dark period of my life,” Ali Kidrowski said of her early adolescence. “Just this overwhelming depression and feeling of isolation. The thought of death was not scary to me at that point. It almost seemed like a better way than what I was feeling.”
While she appeared to have a picture perfect All-American childhood, shortly after she put away her Barbie dolls, the smile faded.
Ali encountered bullies at school, and the cutting began at age 12, after she learned about it from a friend.
“I went home and I tried it, and it was on from there. I felt such a release from it, and it was very numbing,” said Ali.
“I felt like I had failed at something or other, so it was a way of punishing myself,” said a 17-year-old girl we will call “Mary.”
Mary has cut herself hundreds of times over the past five years.
“Eventually, it starts feeling good and becomes second nature,” Mary said. “You don’t realize how addictive it is. It’s like smoking. You say, ‘I’m gonna try this once, and then I’ll be able to stop.'”
“I had no idea about the cutting culture that actually exists with the middle school and high school kids these days,” said Mary’s mother.
“There were times when you're sitting there going to bed when you're thinking “I wonder if my daughter will be alive when I get up in the morning,’” she said.
Ali and Mary were once part of a secret group in Tampa Bay.
“A lot of people do it and they keep it a secret and hide it. 'Cause who are they going to talk to about it?” said Ali.
Ali recalls comparing injuries with her classmate in private school.
“If she would come to school with a deeper cut than me, I was gonna make sure to come back the next day with a deeper cut than her,” she said.
Hillsborough County School Resource Officer Roger Bradley says he and other local school resource officers have seen cutting skyrocket among students in recent years.
“10 years ago, I wouldn't have believed it,” said Deputy Bradley.
While it's hard to come by specific statistics regarding cutting, approximately two million cases of self-injury are reported annually in the U.S. by hospital emergency rooms and other sources.
Recent studies show the number of patients seeking treatment for self-injury has doubled in the past three years.
One reason may be because of increased public exposure to the problem.
Stars like Angelina Jolie, Megan Fox and Demi Lovato have publically admitted cutting.
Cutting is also prominent in movies, music videos and social media targeting teens.
“Their curiosity gets going, and it kind of leads in that direction,” said Deputy Bradley. “They go on YouTube, They Google it up and it's there.”
“Subconsciously, every time you look at something, it's a trigger that makes you want to do it more and more,” said Mary.
“When people start talking about triggers and wanting to self-harm or wanting to die, it can become contagious,” said therapist Nancy Gordon, who specializes in treating adolescents who self-harm.
Sometimes the treatment process can take years.
“It's hard work, because what does it mean? It means you have to learn to cope with the tremendous overwhelming pain,” said Gordon.
Even though the scars may be permanent, the pain doesn't have to be.
Mary stopped cutting six months ago and is preparing for college.
Ali, who is now 23, works at a treatment center where she helps others heal.
“I dealt with a lot of issues for a really long time,” said Ali. ”But I'm a happy person today. I'm young and I love my life. And I don't feel like that 12-year-old girl anymore.”
Experts say cutting often can eventually lead to suicide or serve as a gateway to drug and alcohol addiction.
Signs your child may be involved:
1. Changes in behavior, including spending more time in isolation
2. Long showers or spending large amounts of time in the bathroom
3. Teens washing sheets and clothing themselves, when they previously did not
4. Suddenly using large amounts of toilet paper or facial tissue
5. Wearing long sleeves in summer, wearing large numbers of bracelets
6. New cuts or injuries appear without logical explanations
7. Frequently accessing/following online self-injury groups or websites
Information for treatment:
Tampa Bay Cognitive Behavioral Therapy http://tbcforcbt.com/
Self-Injury Resource and Hotline List http://www.seventeen.com/health/tips/cutting-resources
National Institute of Mental