10% of girls self harm*

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A recent study published in The Lancet, The natural history of self-harm from adolescence to young adulthood: a population-based cohort study, took a group of 1,943 young people from 44 schools in Victoria and documented their lives from the age of 14 to 29 years old. During that time data was collected 9 times via questionnaires and telephone interviews.

Researcher and one of the authors of the study Professor George Patton, from the centre for adolescent health at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, identified the group as being “on a fast track to adulthood. They are the kids who are at the margins of their family, on the margins at school, who are engaging with early sexual activity, who are using drugs and alcohol from an early age. This group of kids is at the highest risk of self-harm. It may be something to do with the emotional hazards that they are facing at this age”.

During puberty there seems to be a combination of several simultaneous developmental milestones that contribute to young people being emotionally vulnerable enough to harm themselves. They include huge changes in hormones and complex developments in their brains (the frontal cortex of the brain matures later than the limbic area, causing an imbalance).

When this is combined with the use of drugs, alcohol and tobacco it has the capacity to create a potentially lethal cocktail of depression, anxiety, self harm and sometimes even suicide. The most common forms of self harm are cutting and burning.

Maggie Hamilton author of What’s Happening to our Girls? and Generation Next speaker said “the girls who cut themselves use a whole range of tools. They dress carefully to hide their mutilation. When asked why they self-injure, they talk about relieving their emotional pain, which ranges from depression and anxiety, to other overwhelming feelings”.

The study found that:

“During adolescence, incident self-harm was independently associated with symptoms of depression and anxiety (95%), antisocial behaviour, high-risk alcohol use, cannabis use, and cigarette smoking. Adolescent symptoms of depression and anxiety were clearly associated with incident self-harm in young adulthood.”

Professor Patton went on to say that help was at hand for these young people “We are talking about a window of vulnerability which lasts through the mid-teens, where we believe a social scaffolding for young people is very important,” he said. “By that I mean young people are going to be most protected from self-harm by good connections and good involvement with their families and good engagement and commitment with their school and good engagement with their peer group.”

The study concluded that:

“Most self-harming behaviour in adolescents resolves spontaneously. The early detection and treatment of common mental disorders during adolescence might constitute an important and hitherto unrecognised component of suicide prevention in young adults.”

*The natural history of self-harm from adolescence to young adulthood: a population-based cohort study

For help and more information about teenagers who self harm go to:
Youthbeyondblue
Kids Help Line
Lifeline Service Finder
Or call
Lifeline – 13 11 14 (cost of a local call; 24 hours)
Kids Help Line – 1800 55 1800 (free call from a land line; 24 hours)

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.
Source: The Guardian (UK)