Self-injury among Iranian teenage girls

[An educational psychologist is talking about the social phenomenon of ‘cutting’ or ‘self-injury that has become very common among Iranian teenage girls in school. She sees violence in families and in educational system as the main reason for this painful act.]

Bahareh Mehrjoee (Educational Psychologist) says: In a class where there were only 15 students, I could easily see 3 or 4 students were covering their arms and wore long-sleeves. Or they were careful in the classroom so that I wouldn’t be able to see it, and they could gain my approval.

Narrator points to self-injury in girls’ schools: We are talking about these arms of the girls: The violence due to rebellion of a 14 or 15-year-old girl that has either remained hidden from those who are interested in education along with instruction, or even if they have noticed it, nothing has been done to stop it. These cuts point to the depth of a tragedy that neither the families nor the schools have understood it correctly. But its message is clear: they [the girls] have resorted to violence.

Bahareh Mehrjoee points to how common self-injury is in schools: When I brought up the issue in the class, they did not talk much about it at first. But when I talked to them about what is happening in schools, I realized that this is something common— meaning that this is something that is happening very easily among the students, either by themselves, or others do it to them if they [the girls] are incapable, or scared, or do not know what to do. And it is something normal and common. And then I realized that schools know about this, but they ask the students to only cover their arms.

Narrator asserts: These pictures are real, and are taken from students’ arms with their own permission, and are shown for the first time. Just like their voices that are recorded, and for the first time they talk about cruel violence against their own bodies.

Faezeh talks of cutting herself: Well, to tell you the truth, we call it ‘playing with blood.’ When you do it, you become really calm. Really. I have tried many things to become calm. I did everything: shouting, screaming, breaking dishes. Anything. Perhaps, others who have done these other things know what I am talking about. It makes you feel more calm than even crying.

Shakiba says: My boyfriend misunderstood [the situation]. I really hadn’t done it. And I couldn’t prove it. I couldn’t do anything. So that is why I emptied myself. When I did it, I had no control over myself, because I don’t know what happened that I did it.

Narrator continues: There are many reasons for cutting [oneself]. But the way to confront those reasons are violent and cruel. Sometimes the blade cuts deeper than a scratch. And sometimes the blade targets other parts of the body such as legs or even the head.

Bahareh Mehrjoee explains the reasons for self-cutting: There are some who see that many are doing it, and they just follow them and imitate their model. They think that it is the right thing to do, without any good reason. Just because it is fashionable, they do it. There are some of them who are really aggressive. This is another group of students whom I have identified. And I have gained information about these students by talking to them directly. And it wasn’t through indirect means. There are those who are very dissatisfied with their own family conditions. And they say that they are not understood in the family, are persecuted by their fathers, their mothers are persecuted by their fathers, their fathers are not present [at home], and the mothers do not pay attention to the children. And because of these unhealthy relationships in the family, the children turned to self-injury [cutting] and violence against themselves.

Negin says: When I felt the pain, and it started to bleed, then I felt calm and forgot everything. Because of my pain, I started to focus on my arm, and stopped thinking. You know, it is cutting, and it made me calm.

Fatemeh talks of her attempt to kill herself: Some words are said or some things take place that you do not want to happen. And then you have to do it. Well, in general, I have wanted to commit suicide several times with anything that you can think of. You know, on the rail road, with slashing wrists, I wanted to jump off a tall building. But it didn’t happen, as if even death does not want to come to me.

Bahareh Mehrjoee continues: When we are facing such a behavior, what you are suggesting is its secondary reason. It is the secondary reason that they have broken up with their boyfriends, so they hurt their bodies. If it is not the boyfriend, anything else will do. The problem is the violence, that unconscious violence in these children that must find a way out. She must find an excuse or a reason so that through it, she can mentally release herself.

Narrator talks about schools and violence: Many of these cuttings take place in schools by children who have had this experience before– at a place where education must be pursued free from violence. But apparently even this place is not free from violence.

Bahareh Mehrjoee explains the violence in schools: There is a lot of violence in families and educational institutions. You see the violence of parents towards the children, parents towards each other, or you can see the violence in their behaviors. In our schools, you can see violence is raging. The behaviors that I am calling violent do not necessarily confine to beating or humiliating the children. The very fact that children are studying so much, the fact that a child is studying like a machine in school from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and we see its result: which is absolutely nothing. This is violence—a violence which is not defined in proportion to the physiological conditions of a child at that age.

Narrator concludes: That the girls do such a violent act against their own bodies is strange. The fact that they violently do this to their own arms and legs is not understandable.

Before and after violence against themselves, they are not completely understood. Cutting [self-injury] is rapidly increasing in girls’ schools, and if not stopped wisely, we will soon see more heart-wrenching scenes. Once and for all, the country’s educational system must wake up.