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Teen Self-Injury May Be Common

Teenage Cutting and Other Self-Harm Often Done to Control Emotions, Draw a Reaction
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

July 20, 2007 -- A new study shows that teen self-injury, such as cutting, may be more common than previously thought.

If so, the findings are "a wake-up call to take better notice of these behaviors in the community and learn how to help teens manage stress without harming themselves," researcher Elizabeth Lloyd-Richardson, PhD, says in a news release.

Lloyd-Richardson works at Brown University's medical school and The Miriam Hospital in Providence, R.I.

She and her colleagues tracked self-injury among 633 students at five U.S. high schools. Those students responded to the researchers' invitation to complete an anonymous survey about coping with difficult social and emotional problems.

The survey focused on various types of deliberate (but not suicidal) self-injury, including cutting or burning skin, and biting or hitting oneself.

The students -- who were nearly 16 years old, on average -- checked the types of self-harm they had tried within the past year and their motivation for those actions.

Teen Self-Injury

About 46% of the students reported some form of self-injury within the previous year.

That's far higher than the estimated 4% of the U.S. population with a history of self-injury, according to past research cited by Lloyd-Richardson and colleagues.

Among the students in Lloyd-Richardson's study, the most common types of self-injury were biting, cutting, hitting, and burning skin. Sixty percent of self-injurers (28% of all students surveyed) noted moderate to severe self-injury.

The teens' most common reasons for self-injury were "to try to get a reaction from someone," "to get control of a situation," and "to stop bad feelings."

Interventions to stop teen self-injury should promote other ways of coping with their problems, handling stress, and communicating with others, note the researchers.

It's not clear if self-injurers were particularly likely to participate in the study. So the findings -- published in the August edition of Psychological Medicine -- may not represent all teens.

Lloyd-Richardson and colleagues call for nationally representative studies to further investigate teen self-injury.

  • Are you concerned about your teen’s behavior? Get support and information from others on WebMD's Parenting: Preteens and Teenagers message board.

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