Something about Adolescence
Adolescence is a prime time for the behavior.
"From a developmental perspective, you've got a perfect storm for self-injury," said Whitlock, the Cornell researcher.
Not only do the young have to navigate a growing number of personal relationships, their brains and bodies are undergoing changes as well.
In early adolescence, part of the brain involved in emotion, the amygdala, and part of the brain involved in higher thinking, the cortex, are not fully connected, and as a result, they don't communicate as well as they do later in life.
"It's very common for adolescents, particularly early adolescents, to feel high levels of emotion and really not have many skills to deal with the emotion," Whitlock said.
When the children's brains are fully developed, they may learn other, more positive methods for coping with their emotions, such as talking to a friend, going for a run, or meditating. Self-injury does seem to be a behavior many adolescents grow out of, with around 80 percent reporting that they stopped injuring themselves within five years of starting, according to Whitlock's review, published in the May Issue of the journal PLoS Medicine.
From a practical point of view, self-injury is an easily accessible behavior for teens who might have a hard time getting a hold of drugs and alcohol.
What Parents Should Do
If you suspect that your child may be self-harming but you're not sure, look for these signs:
When parents find out, they are at a loss of how to approach their child. It's better to err on the side of open communication. Young people may talk when they're ready. It's better to open up the door, let them know you're aware of this, and if they don't come to you, go to someone else, that you're not going to punish them, that you're just concerned.
Be direct with your child, don't act out of anger or let yourself become hysterical -- 'I'm going to watch you every second, you can't go anywhere.' Be direct, express concern. Say, 'We're going to get help for you.
Parents often mistake cutting for suicidal behavior. That's usually when they have finally seen the cuts, and they don't know how to interpret it, so the young person gets dragged into the A&E. But A&E doctors aren't always used to seeing this, and find it difficult to understand whether it's suicidal or self-injurious behavior. Many young people who are not suicidal at all are being evaluated and even hospitalized as suicidal.
Having the right support behind you is vital and there are plenty of people who can help.
Your child's GP
The family doctor can help in a few ways. They can listen – if your child's willing to talk to them – as well as treating injuries and giving medical advice. They could also refer your child for specialist help (CAMHS Team, Child Psychiatrist, Psychologist) if they need it.
Your child's school
Self-harm is more and more common so your child's school will almost certainly have experience of helping pupils and their families. They will probably also have a school counsellor or another member of staff that your child trusts and can go to during the day if they feel like they're in danger of hurting themselves.
Your first step should be to speak to the person in charge of child protection for the school. Then take it from there.
If you want to learn more about self-harm you can also consult the two links below:
The Truth About Self-Harm (PDF) – In-depth guide for young people and their friends and families. Includes tips for talking about it and strategies for stopping self-harm. (Mental Health Foundation)
Reducing and Stopping Self-Harm – Explore the reasons you want to stop injuring yourself, examine the reasons behind your behavior, and learn how to stop, as well as deal with slip-ups. (Scar Tissue)
Over the last couple decades, more young people appear
to be pulling out razor blades and lighters in order to injure
themselves, according to anecdotal reports from counsellors.
Their intent is not to die, just to inflict harm, a behavior
known as non-suicidal self-injury.
Self-harm is the fourth most common concerns that children and young people contact ChildLine about. There were over 19,000 ChildLine counselling sessions about self-harm in 2014/15.
However, scientists aren't sure whether the behavior actually is becoming more rampant, or if they're simply detecting more cases due to increased awareness. And some researchers say that while there might have been an increase in the 1990s to early 2000s, it has likely hit a plateau by now.
Nonetheless, the widespread prevalence of non-suicidal self-injury does represent a public health concern. Several recent studies have found some 17-28 percent of teens and young adults say they have engaged in the behavior at some point in their lifetimes.
Scientists are now analyzing non-suicidal self-injury in an unprecedented way, trying to answer a number of questions, including: Why do people hurt themselves? Are some people hard-wired to self-injure? And what treatments work best to stop the cutting?
The consequences of the behavior go beyond physical harm and include depression, anxiety, social isolation and an increased risk for attempting suicide, said Peggy Andover, a psychology professor at Fordham University in New York.
"All of these negative consequences put together, coupled with the fact that this is such a highly prevalent behavior in our high schools, in our colleges, just in our community, it really highlights the fact that we really need to address this behavior," Andover said.
Non-suicidal self-injury is commonly defined by scientists as "deliberate discrete destruction of body tissue without the intent of suicide," said Kimberly Harrison, postdoctoral practitioner at Park Center Inc., a mental health treatment center in Fort Wayne, Ind. "You're trying to destroy your body in some way without trying to kill yourself," Harrison said.
A wide range of behaviors fit this description, including cutting, burning and carving of the skin to breaking bones, preventing wound healing and sticking yourself with pins and needles.
People usually start self-injuring in early adolescence, between the ages of 11 and 15.
Estimates for exactly how prevalent the behavior is in adolescents and young adults vary widely, from as low as 4 percent to as high as 38 percent. These estimates are mostly based on studies of small populations involving a few hundred people. But taken together, experts agree the percentage falls somewhere in the high teens to low 20s.
The most obvious harms from self-injury arise from the wounds themselves, which pose a risk of infection. But there are psychological consequences as well, including feeling shame about the behavior and fearing social rejection if the self-injurers do admit to hurting themselves.
There is also some evidence that people who engage in non-suicidal self-injury are at an increased risk of suicide, although the link is strongest among psychiatric patients. Researchers have speculated that self-injury might prime people for suicide in that they are able to overcome the fear and pain that comes from hurting themselves.
But "the vast majority of people who report non-suicidal self-injury are not trying to end their life, they're trying to cope with life," said Janis Whitlock, a researcher at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., who recently published a review article on non-suicidal self-injury. "It's absolutely the opposite of what suicide is."
Like drugs and sex
Indeed, experts say most people engage in self-injury as a way to cope with their emotions, particularly negative ones. And most self-injurers report that it works – it calms them and brings a sense of relief.
These soothing feelings most likely result from the release of endorphins, brain chemicals that relieve pain and can produce euphoria.
"People use self-injury in a lot of ways that other people use drugs or alcohol, or food or sex…to try to feel better in the short run," Whitlock said.
People might also self-injure as a form of punishment.
Matthew Nock, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, has come up with four main reasons for engaging in self-injury, both personal and social. His model, which he recently discussed at the APA meeting, suggests that people self-injure to:
There is also evidence that people are more likely to self-injure if they have a negative body image coupled with strong negative emotions and poor coping skills.
"It makes it easier for them to harm the body," said Jennifer Muehlenkamp, a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, who studies the condition.
A few studies also suggest biology is at play. For instance, research published in the July issue of the Journal of Affective Disorders found that non-suicidal self-injurers had lower levels of opioids in their bodies (endorphins are a type of opioid) than those who did not self-injure. One hypothesis is that people who self-injure have an opioid deficiency and do it to boost their natural opioid levels.
Recent research involving patients diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, a condition in which people often self-injure, found that self-injury could inhibit brain regions often involved in processing emotion.
Child Psychiatrist in London
Why Do Teens Hurt Themselves?
The Science of Self-Injury
Extract from "Why Do Teens Hurt Themselves?
By Rachael Rettner
Call on: 07983 325340