One in 12 Teens Engages in Self-Harm: Report

Practice often disappears by adulthood, but can be a predictor of suicide

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 16 (HealthDay News) -- One in 12 teens deliberately harm themselves, but 90 percent give up the behavior by the time they're young adults, a new study shows.

Self-harm, which includes cutting and burning, is one of the strongest predictors of suicide and is especially common among females aged 15 to 24, according to a news release from The Lancet, where the finding appears Nov. 16 online.

In this study, researchers followed a group of young people in Victoria, Australia, from 1992 to 2008. The participants' average age was 15 in 1992-93 and 29 in 2008.

Of the 1,802 participants who took part while they were teens, 149 (8 percent) reported self-harm. More girls (10 percent) than boys (6 percent) reported self-harm. There was a substantial decline in self-harm during the late teens and by age 29, fewer than 1 percent of the participants reported self-harm.

Of the 1,652 participants who took part both when they were teens and young adults, 136 reported self-harm while they were teens. Of those 136 participants, 122 (90 percent) reported no self-harm in young adulthood and 14 (10 percent) reported continuing self-harm (13 females and one male).

Cutting and burning were the most common form of self-harm among teens. Other forms of self-harm included self-battery and poisoning/overdose. No single type of self-harm was most common among young adults.

Among teens, symptoms of depression and anxiety were associated with a 3.7 times increased risk of self harm, cigarette smoking was associated with a 2.4 times increased risk, antisocial behavior and high-risk alcohol use were associated with a doubling of risk and marijuana use was associated with a near-doubling of risk.

Young adults who had depression or anxiety when they were teens were about six times more likely to self-harm, compared to those who had no depression and anxiety when they were teens.

"Our findings suggest that most adolescent self-harming behavior resolves spontaneously. However, young people who self-harm often have mental health problems that might not resolve without treatment, as evident in the strong relation detected between adolescent anxiety and depression and an increased risk of self-harm in young adulthood," wrote Dr. Paul Moran, of King's College London, Institute of Psychiatry, in England, and George C Patton, a professor at the Centre for Adolescent Health at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia, and colleagues.

"Our findings suggest that the treatment of such problems might have additional benefits in terms of reducing the suffering and disability associated with self-harm in later years. Moreover, because of the association between self-harm and suicide, we suggest that the treatment of common mental disorders during adolescence could constitute an important and hitherto unrecognized component of suicide prevention in young adults," they concluded.

More information

The Canadian Mental Health Association has more about youth and self-injury.

Robert Preidt SOURCE: The Lancet, news release, Nov. 16, 2011

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