A long term study of Australian teenagers has found that 1 teenager in 12 will self harm, and that 10% of these teenagers will take this into adulthood. Girls were found to be at higher risk of self harm during teenage years than boys, and also far more likely to take this into their adulthood (Moran et. al., 2012). The study followed 2000 teenagers over 15 years in Australia, and found that along with the most popular methods of self harm (cutting & burning), cannabis use, heavy alcohol use, cigarettes and (not surprisingly) depression and anxiety were all associated with self harm.
These figures are startling, and raise important questions regarding the state of mental health of our adolescents. But how do we spot the signs that our teenager is self harming?
Some signs to watch out for include any unexplained injuries, such as cuts, scratches, burns and bruises, making excuses for injuries or scars if they are discovered, acting embarrassed or ashamed about injuries, wearing long sleeves even in hot weather, secretiveness or withdrawal, having trouble dealing with emotions, spending time with people who self-injure (especially on the internet), having trouble functioning at work, school, and in relationships, and a low self esteem.
An important thing to remember is that self-harm is not merely a way to get attention. Even though the self-injurer may not feel the pain while inflicting the wound, he or she will feel pain afterward. Therefore, such injuries should not be brushed aside as mere manipulation, nor should the teen be made fun of for being different. Self-harm should be taken seriously by friends and family. Consulting your GP and/or a Psychologist is essential; and compassion can make a world of difference.
Moran, P., Coffey, C., Romaniuk, H., Olsen, C., Borschmann, R., Carlin, J.B., & Patton, G.C. (2012). The natural history of self harm from adolescence to adulthood: A population based cohort study. The Lancet, Vo. 379, (9812) pp. 236- 243.