A new study published in the August 2007 issue of 'Psychological Medicine' found that non-suicidal self-injury - the deliberate destruction of body tissue - is on the rise, becoming a relatively common occurrence for teens in high school. Researchers at the Miriam Hospital and the Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University found that nearly 50 percent of the teens studied endorsed some form of NSSI in the past year. The most frequent types of self-injury were biting, cutting/carving/or abrading/burning skin, and hitting the self deliberately.
According to lead researcher Elizabeth Lloyd-Richardson, PhD, a psychologist at Miriam Hospital and assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the Warren Alpert Medical School, "This is a wake-up call to take better notice of these behaviors in the community and learn how to help these teens manage stress ... we were surprised to learn that 46 percent of the teens in the study reported inuring themselves in the past year on multiple occasions." Study outcomes reported that 28 percent endorsed moderate to severe forms of NSSI including cutting skin, burning skin, giving self a tattoo, scraping skin or using a pencil eraser to abrade skin. Minor forms of NSSI consisted of such behaviors as pulling out hair, biting self or picking at areas to the point of drawing blood. Moderate to severe self-injurers were more likely to report a history of psychiatric treatment, suicide attempt and current suicide ideation.
Results from the study also indicated that the most common reasons given by teens for engaging in self-harm included "to get control of a situation," "to stop bad feelings" and "to try and get a reaction from someone." Once thought of as a phenomenon only found in teens with a history of mental health issues, these findings inform that self-mutilation is on the rise among teens in the general community and should be taken seriously as a potential pre-curser to more severe mental health issues and addressed immediately by seeking professional help.
Peggy Nolen is a licensed professional counselor in Covington. She specializes in anxiety, depression, problems with drugs and alcohol and recovery from traumatic experience. She can be reached at (770) 314-5924.