More teens harming themselves

NEW YORK, March 26 (Reuters Life!) - The number of teens deliberately cutting or burning themselves is rising as self-injury is spotlighted in blogs, songs and in schools but this behaviour is a far cry from suicide, found a U.S. study.

Researcher David Klonsky, who spent five years studying why people inflict injuries upon themselves, said studies show one in six U.S. adolescents or students now self-injure, using this behaviour to cope with feelings of depression or anxiety.

New York-based student Laura McIntyre was one of them.

McIntyre was about 15 when she began using razor blades to slice her upper arms after her brother was sent to jail and her father went to serve with the U.S. military in Iraq.

She said the pain was a relief from the emotional anguish.

“I found this distracted me from the emotional trauma. I wasn’t suicidal but I was depressed,” said McIntyre, who is now 20 and studying psychology at New York’s Hunter College.

“At first I managed to hide it with long-sleeve shirts but I became completely withdrawn. Cutting was the only thing I looked forward to doing.

“But my mother began noticing bloody rags and tissues and sheets. The excuse of having a nose bleed only lasts so long. She took me to a therapist.”

With the help of therapists, McIntyre managed to stop harming herself about two years ago.

She said she got the idea to self-harm from her brother who also used to cut himself.


Klonsky, a psychology professor at Stony Brook University in New York, said the rising numbers of teenagers who self-injure in recent years had raised questions about why they resorted to this behaviour, prompting his study.

Historically self-injury was regarded as a rare behaviour associated with suicide and severe mental illness but based on his study, he found most habitual self-injurers reported the same experience.

His research, which involved interviews with about 40 students who self-injure and analyzing three decades of research on self-injury, found it was often linked to depression but not suicide.

“People are catching on that this is very different in fact from suicide. It is a coping mechanism,” he told Reuters.

“Most surprising for me was how consistent the pattern was for people who do this habitually. There is a build-up of overwhelming negative emotion, frustration, anxiety or loneliness and then self injury quickly gives a sense of relief from emotional pressure.

“Afterward they will feel calm, relaxed, but the next day they feel angry or ashamed.”

Klonsky, whose paper on self-injury is published in this month’s Clinical Psychology Review, said the numbers of people self-injuring were rising as this behaviour received more publicity.

Self-injury was typically performed alone and kept secret from others.

“Self-injury is all over music lyrics and many actors and musicians will be open about their history of self injury,” said Klonsky.

“Most adolescents heard of this now and some will try it out. Most do it alone but in some subcultures such as gothic circles it is the mark of belonging and bonding.”

Klonsky said this was becoming a major problem in schools in the United States, Britain and Australia with staff uncertain how to handle this behaviour.

“Understanding why people self-injure is a first step toward prevention and intervention,” he said.