The growing concern of self-harming behaviours in adolescents

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Turning Point explores concerns around self-harm, an umbrella term for any intentional form of self-injury – and a major public health concern.

Earlier this month, NICE rubber stamped their guidance on self-harm prevention. The guidance is the first to be drawn up in 11 years and stresses the fact that self-harm is the collective responsibility of all professionals working with young people, including healthcare professionals, social care practitioners, third sector organisation staff, criminal justice system workers and school staff.

Self-harm is an umbrella term for any intentional form of self-injury – and is a major public health concern. Often, self-harm co-occurs with mental health disorders. Whilst people of all demographics self-harm, it is particularly prevalent among young people – with estimates suggesting that around 17% of young people have self-harmed in their lifetime, with the average age of onset being 12-13 years of age, and most commonly occurring during mid-adolescence.

Self-harm can be hard to talk about because it can be linked to emotions we don’t know how to voice. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I work as a Youth Practitioner for Resilience, which is a young people’s service for sexual health and substance misuse based in West and Central London. At Resilience, we help young people understand self-harm and provide support to individuals who are self-harming.

It is important to recognise the connections between self-harm and social inequality. For instance, research shows women aged 16-25 are twice as likely to self-harm than men in this age group, whilst BAME adolescents are twice as likely to engage in self-harm. 

Even though self-harm has been studied extensively, it is thought to be under reported due to the stigma and shame which many experience. Unfortunately, young people are often negatively impacted by access to harmful content via the internet, with research showing online access provides a ‘how to guide of suicide and non-suicidal harm’ and forum access allowing users to communicate with others seeking to end their own lives. Moreover, social media sites (Tumblr, Instagram and Twitter) are believed to elevate risk amongst vulnerable individuals by romanticising harmful behaviours and depression.

Conversely, the internet can provide access to intervention and prevention activity, online support groups and advice. This can be a key resource in helping young people. There is a lack of consensus on what constitutes as harmful or helpful through online exchange, often evidenced in disparity between the perceptions of professionals and users.

The fundamental question surrounding research in adolescent self-harm, is what stops young people accessing support?

One of the main factors preventing young people accessing support is stigma surrounding self-harm and a lack of adequate support networks/resources. Moreover, a substantial proportion of young people who self-harm or have thoughts of self-harm do not identify themselves as having a problem, and therefore do not seek out support. There is also an addictive element when considering repetitive acts of self-harm, although presently there is limited research investigating self-harm as an addictive behaviour.

Read the full blog post here.

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This content was created by Turning Point

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