For Many Teens, Self-Harm is a Dangerous Form of Self-Medication

The National Center for PTSD estimates that between 13 to 35 percent of teens are using cutting, scratching, and pinching skin as a way to cope with the emotional stress of their daily lives.

Self-harm may be on the rise among teens, according to a recent study. The National Center for PTSD estimates that between 13 to 35 percent of teens are using cutting, scratching, and pinching skin as a way to cope with the emotional stress of their daily lives.


Shawn Radcliffe writes for Healthline News that “between 2009 and 2012,” researchers reported “self-injuries accounted for a growing number of visits by adolescents to emergency rooms — increasing from 1.1 percent to 1.6 percent of all visits.” The study, which has been published in the journal Pediatrics, included over 286,000 teens between the ages of 10 to 18, spanning around three years of emergency room visits.

This rising trend is concerning, but it's often not a sign of suicide. Gretchen Cutler, the lead researcher from Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, wrote in an email:

“The majority of self-harm behavior in adolescents is done without suicidal intent.”

She went on to add:

“Any self-harm behavior is concerning, even without suicidal intent, as adolescents who self-injure are at increased risk for future suicide attempts.”

Fewer of them are doing it for attention, according to psychologist Benna Strober. “More of them do it to self-soothe, and they don’t want other people to see it, especially their parents,” she explained. Because it's such a secretive thing, it makes it difficult to know how many adolescence are doing it. What's more, the pediatrics study was only able to identify mental health disorders in about 5 percent, which may mean some were missed. Cutler said:

“The low number of patients with a recorded diagnosis is concerning, as this indicates missed opportunities to document mental health issues and link patients with follow-up mental health care.”

Many use self-harm as emotional medication — it's a coping mechanism. But those who do it should be seeking therapy, so they can gain the right emotional tools to ride the waves of anxiety in their lives rather than drown in it. However, no one can make you get better; you have to want to stop.

Read more at Healthline News.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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