An international study done in May of 2014 indicates that one in ten students will engage in self harm. The Young Life and Times survey, which records the attitudes of young people on a range of social issues, was published on May 16, 2014. This annual survey asks the youth of Northern Ireland essential questions about their lives.
The results of this year’s survey found:
- 28% of 16 year olds reported experiencing serious personal, emotional or mental health problems at some point in the past year
- 13% of teens said that they had at some point in the past, seriously thought about taking an overdose or harming themselves and 6% had thought about this in the past.
- 13% had said they engaged in self harm, 5% had done so once and 8% more than once.
According to the survey, the most likely reason that students reported in engaging in self harm was because they “wanted to punish themselves”. Dr. Dirk Schubotz from the School of Sociology, Social Policy, and Social Work at Queen’s University reported that “Although mental health campaigns have for some time attempted to de-stigmatize mental ill-health, by far the most likely reason why young people self harm remains self punishment. This suggests that young people with mental health problems keep blaming themselves for these, rather than appreciation external stressors such as pressures arising from school or financial difficulties.”
Harming oneself is the act of deliberately inflicting injury on the body without the intent of suicide. Self harm can include cutting, head banging, pulling hair, burning or bruising the body, stabbing, hitting, or excessive rubbing of the skin. The DSM recognizes that acts of self harm are not those that are socially sanctioned, such as body piercing or tattooing.
Although, there are many ways in which an adolescent might harm his or her body, cutting is the most common. This unhealthy pattern might start off as an experiment among friends or sometimes as a response to a dare. Sadly, some teens might even cut as a way to fit in with their peer group. Cutting is a form of self harm that includes puncturing the skin until it bleeds, scraping the skin with objects, picking wounds, biting or burning the skin, deep scratching, or even striking the body creating soft tissue damage.
The Young Life and Times survey results indicated that self punishment was the primary reason for self harm; yet other sources provide additional reasons for teen self injury. For instance, it is often a means to communicate distress, particularly for those teens that may not be able to articulate their emotional or psychological symptoms. Often, self harming behavior is an indication that there are underlying issues to be addressed or possibly a mental illness that needs self injury treatment. Also, self harm is often a way to cope with intense emotions, to calm and soothe, to feel more alive if teens feel disconnected or numb, or to release pent up anger.
For this reason, part of teen self injury treatment is to tenderly support an adolescent in getting in touch with the reason behind their behavior. The best way to care for a teen that is exhibiting self harming behavior is to seek the professional service of a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. With proper self injury treatment, such as medication and therapy, self harm can be replaced with healthier coping mechanisms that are life affirming and safe.
Lastly, self mutilation can also be a function of certain mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or anti-social personality disorder. For this reason, obtaining a diagnosis first can be an important part to treating self harm in teens.
Queen’s University Belfast. (2014, May 16). One in 10 16-year-olds have considered self harm, study shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140516092255.htm
By Robert Hunt
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