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Identifying Teens Who Harm Themselves and Helping Them Put Down the Knife

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How could a child have the strength to deliberately hurt themselves? Mental illness like depression and anxiety are often associated with young adults who hurt themselves by cutting or burning their own skin. According to a 2011 article in Lancet, one in 12 teens deliberately hurt their own bodies.

Once these teens start hurting themselves, it only makes it easier for them to take much more dangerous steps in wounding themselves mortally. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that the third-leading cause of death for teens is suicide. Researchers have found a major connection between those who harm themselves and those who commit suicide.

Researchers stress that doctors and families should help children find treatment for mental illness to lessen the risk of self-harm and potential suicide. A ray of hope is that as children grow into young adults, 90 percent of them quit the self-harm. Ten percent are still at very high risk of suicide and a recent study helps identify how these children’s needs can be met.

Who is Most At Risk?

Researchers have indicated the likelihood that certain teens would be compelled to harm themselves or take their own lives.

A recent study in Academic Pediatrics offers advice on how parents and doctors can notice self-harming signs and how they can help their children start mentally healing again. Researchers from the University of Missouri, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, University of Minnesota and the Pennsylvania State University collaborated on the study of teens.

Lindsay Taliaferro, Ph.D., an assistant professor of health sciences at the University of Missouri, said that many children who inflict pain and wounds on themselves are suffering from hopelessness. A history of anxiety and depression weigh heavily on many of them.

Some factors that increase the risk of self-harm include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Smoking (2.4 higher risk than non-smokers)
  • Females are 4 percent more likely to self-harm than boys; females aged 15 to 24 are most vulnerable
  • Those with anxiety and depression had a 3.7 times risk.

Good Communication May Keep Children Safe From Harm

Taking time to listen compassionately and sensitively to a person with a problem is some of the best time invested for that person’s life. Taliaferro said that their research also confirmed that good communication is key in protecting teens against self-harm. Her team found that those teens that had a close-knit relationship with their parents were less likely to harm themselves.

When teens felt they had no “out,” no hope, no one to talk with, they desensitized their emotions and hurt themselves without as much pain. When a close parent, friend, relative, or treatment specialist can have a special connection and relationship with that teen, the teen can feel all those emotions of concern, love, honesty, understanding, and hope.

By fostering a deep connection with a teen, parents and others can lift them from their darkness, let them know that they are not alone, and re-inspire hope through treatment and unconditional love.

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