17 November 2011
Self-harming behaviour such as cutting and burning is reported by 8 per cent of teenagers, an Australian study shows, but most abandon the practice by the time they reach young adulthood (Lancet 2011; online 17 Nov).
Researchers from the Centre for Adolescent Health in Melbourne surveyed nearly 2000 students across Victoria on up to 9 occasions between the ages of 15 and 29 years, with around half providing data throughout the study.
In one of the few studies to track self-harm behaviour in the general population over time, the researchers showed that adolescent self-harm reduced substantially as teens grew older, with only 3 per cent of those surveyed reporting it in adulthood.
"Injury to the skin through cutting and burning was the commonest method of self-harm during adolescence, although by young adulthood no one form of self-harm predominated," the authors wrote.
Girls were more likely than boys to continue the behaviour as they grew older.
The researchers found that depression and anxiety during adolescence were associated with increased likelihood of self-harm, and also upped the risk of it continuing into adulthood almost 6-fold.
"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 unrecognised component of suicide prevention in young adults," the authors concluded.
Professor Anthony Jorm, NHMRC Australian Fellow at the Orygen Youth Health Research Centre, Melbourne, said an implication of the study was that parents, teachers and others who have close association with adolescents need to be able to identify those at risk.
"Mental health first aid training needs to be widely available to adults who live or work with adolescents,” Professor Jorm said.
The study showed most adolescent self-harm did not reflect a wish to die, but rather was a way of dealing with strong negative emotions often associated with depression, anxiety, alcohol and other drug use.
|If you or someone you know is depressed and/or having suicidal thoughts, see your doctor, or phone one of these helplines.|
|Lifeline (24 hours)||13 11 14|
|Kids Helpline (under 18 years of age)||1800 55 1800|
|Just Ask - rural mental health information||1300 13 11 14|
|Mensline Australia (24 hours)||1300 78 99 78|
|SANE Helpline - mental illness information, support and referral||1800 18 SANE (7263)|
For more general, non-urgent information and resources for teenagers and young people on mental health and depression, see the websites in this table.
|Depression/mental health resources for teenagers and young people|
|headspace||Australia's National Youth Mental Health Foundation. Headspace has centres around Australia where young people can participate in activities and get support and information.|
|youth beyondblue||Beyondblue's website for young people and their families to help deal with depression.|
|Reach Out Australia||Information, stories, forums and blogs to help understanding of mental health issues and to connect young people with mental health issues.|
|Itsallright.org||SANE Australia's website for young people with relatives and friends with a mental illness. Comprises information, factsheets, podcasts and a helpline.|
|Embrace the Future||Project of the Mental Health Foundation of Australia to educate people under 24 to develop the skills which promote resilience and positive mental health.|
Last Reviewed: 21 November 2011