Nicole is among a growing number of teenagers who use knives, razor blades and other sharp instruments to cut themselves in an attempt to drive out emotional pain.

The Hermiston teenager remembers the first time she hurt herself on purpose as she sat feeling depressed on the front steps of her middle school.

"A guy I really liked had rejected me," she remembers. "I used a pink eraser to give myself eraser burns - it kind of escalated from there."

Instead of burning with an eraser, she started cutting herself with knives, scissors, safety pins and letter openers - whatever was handy when depression or anger overtook her.

Five years later, her arms and legs are a glossary of emotional pain. The words and phrases "no more darkness," "empty," "demise," "cry," "hopeless," "failure," "alone" and "I am nothing" appear there, along with symbols and designs.

Jennifer Cooper, a Hermiston clinical psychologist, said self-injury (SI) is bringing an increasing number of teens such as Nicole into her office.

"Self-injury is a big reason I see kids," Cooper said. "I've noticed a growing trend among adolescents."

In the past, psychologists such as Cooper saw self-injury most often in people with borderline personality disorders. Now, the behavior is becoming an alarmingly common coping mechanism for teens - mostly girls.

Cooper cited a study of college students where 17 percent of college students said they had self-injured at one time or another.

"Some people have emotional pain they don't know what to do with," Cooper said, "so they inflict physical pain."

Cooper said the typical "cutter" is a teenage girl who feels disconnected from the people in her life.

"She feels helpless and alone," Cooper said. "She doesn't feel like she fits in."

Nicole relates with that description and said she doesn't feel accepted by most of her peers and adults in her life. After sessions with Cooper, she stopped cutting for several months, then started again after "a dream got crushed."

"It distracts you from the pain," she said. "It's not a healthy way to deal with the pain, but it works."

Vickie Read, a counselor at Pendleton High School, said she sees plenty of students who struggle with this unhealthy behavior and said PHS is typical of any high school in America.

"Over the last 10 years, I've seen quite an increase," Read said.

The behavior is found in both rural or urban settings.

"Any school you go into, you see kids who do this to get through the day," Read said.

Most are girls, but boys engage in self-injury too, she said.

"Guys, more often, will hit or punch themselves or try to break bones," she said. "They'll hit the wall and try to bust their knuckles."

Read suspects students of cutting if they stay covered up even in hot weather.

"It could be 95 degrees and kids are still wearing long sleeves," she said.

Cooper pointed to Internet behavior as one tip-off for parents. Many teens who engage in self-injury often share experiences and talk about why they injure themselves with others in Cyberspace.

"They take pictures of cutting and post graphic images on these pro-SI sites," Cooper said.

Nicole said Cooper is dead on. The teenager spends hours on a chatboard at myjellybean.com.

"We all have problems," she said. "We're there to help each other."

The teenager said a whole culture has emerged. Cutting has even found its way into popular music, she said. She recited a line from "Razorblade Salvation," by a the heavy metal band, Synergy.

"Rejoicing with the pain and uniting with the sorrow," she said.

Read said once a teacher or counselor identifies a student who has self-injured, they work to get the student to a clinical psychologist or someone else trained to deal with the complex and addictive behavior.

It's not an instant fix.

"It's a long process," Read said. "A kid who's cutting a lot doesn't just stop."

Cooper agrees that treatment takes time, so in the meantime, she suggests that her clients use safer ways to cause pain like gripping an ice cube and snapping rubber bands against their wrists. Then she helps them center on the reasons for their distress.

"I help them find other ways of dealing with emotions," she said.

Many parents are shocked to find out their children are harming themselves, the psychologist said.

"Often they cut places their clothing covers or in their mouth," Cooper said.

When a parent discovers the behavior, he or she should attempt to remain calm.

"If you freak out at them," she said, "they probably won't talk to you."

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