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Self-harming and mental issues go hand and hand
November 16th, 2011
06:31 PM ET

Self-harming and mental issues go hand and hand

One in every 12 young people do some type of self-harm when they are under the age of 18, according a study published Tuesday in the British journal The Lancet.  The researchers found most of them, who are doing things like cutting and burning themselves, carrying out self-inflicted poisoning, overdoses and self-battery, are girls.  These acts have been shown to be a precursor to committing suicide.

Among those who inflict injury on themselves, 90% usually resolve their problems before they become adults, while the other 10% continues to harm themselves even in early adulthood, according to the study.

Self-injury a silent epidemic

The study included 1,802 adolescents, average age 15, over a 16-year period.It found 8% of those young people reported harming themselves. Of those, 10% were girls and 6% were boys. Many who reported hurting themselves in their teens did not continue to practice self-harm by age 29 and fewer than 1% of those study participants who reported self-harm, hurt themselves after they reached early adulthood.

Acts of self-harm are especially common in 15- to 24-year-old females, a group with whom self-harm incident rates, according to researchers, is rising. During adolescence, such conditions as depression, anxiety, antisocial behavior, alcohol abuse and smoking marijuana and/or cigarettes, increased the chances of young people harming themselves as they got older. For example, teens who experienced depression or anxiety were about six times more likely to self-harm in young adulthood than adolescents who did not suffer from these illnesses.

In a statement, study investigators, Dr. Paul Moran of King’s College London, Institute of Psychiatry and George C. Patton, professor at the Center for Adolescent Health at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia, noted: “Our findings suggest that most adolescent self-harming behavior resolves spontaneously. However, young people who self-harm often have mental health problems that might not resolve without treatment, as evident in the strong relation detected between adolescent anxiety and depression and an increased risk of self-harm in young adulthood. Our findings suggest that the treatment of such problems might have additional benefits in terms of reducing the suffering and disability associated with self-harm in later years."

They continued, "Moreover, because of the association between self-harm and suicide, we suggest that the treatment of common mental disorders during adolescence could constitute an important and unrecognized component of suicide prevention in young adults.”

Researchers hope their findings will raise awareness of acts of self harm and help professionals to better understand why young patients choose to harm themselves, especially as they get older.


soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Natalie

    Your article was very helpul to those people who wants to harm themselves. Good joob!

    December 13, 2011 at 21:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Jen McLeod

    Thank you for this article. At Step Up! International we work with teachers and the education sector to assist them to look beyond the self harming behaviour and at the possible underlying issues and that self harm is not about attention seeking, but rather a strategy that young people use to manage emotional distress.’ http://www.stepup-international.co.uk

    December 20, 2011 at 21:24 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.