Teens often hurt themselves simply because they have heard from others that it will make them feel good, they have seen it on television or in movies, or they have a friend who does it. However, self-harm among young people should not be compared to that of psychiatric patients, even though many adolescents have, at one point, hurt themselves on purpose, because most of the time the teens only do it once, and not on a regular basis, according to Jonas Bjärehed and his team at Lund University in Sweden.

Most adolescents have hit their head against the wall, punched the wall, cut, or scratched themselves. The report highlights the importance of understanding the difference between when teens are hurting themselves because of a psychological problem or when they are just displaying typical adolescent behavior.

During the study, Bjärehed and his team administered a survey to 1000 adolescents from southern Sweden. The findings revealed the 1 in every 4 of those questioned by the experts said that they had purposely hurt themselves in the past, however, only a very small number of them hurt themselves on a regular basis. Jonas Bjärehed said:

“It is important that school and health professionals know how to deal with young people who self-harm. They need to react appropriately and not judge all young people alike. For many of these young people, the behavior seems to be fairly mild and often of a temporary nature. It may be viewed as a matter of experimentation or problems that are not of a serious nature.”

Six years ago, when the author started his analysis of self harm among teens, there was not much information available. Now, information and knowledge about eating disorders among adolescents is available at schools and health care facilities.

Bjärehed says that he believes knowledge about self harm can still improve, and he hopes it will in the near future, because even if self harm behavior is not a result of a mental health problem, it can quickly spiral out of control. He notes that when a person starts hurting themselves, they are at a higher risk for continuing to do so, which, in turn, can damage their mental well-being.

Bjärehed said:

“It is not the first time young people worry those around them with new types of behavior. Nowadays, we are grappling with the fact that many signs of stress and mental illness appear to be increasing in our society, especially among young people, without us really understanding why. The fact that many young people suffer mental health problems during a time in their lives when they are in the process of becoming adults and developing the skills they need to contribute to society has become a serious public health problem.

An important challenge is to understand this trend and the signs of mental illness that we are seeing in young people, in order to be able to take the necessary measures to prevent it or provide help”

It is important to remember that people who self-harm should be helped, not reprimanded, and individuals with mental health problems who hurt themselves should see a therapist or doctor to begin interventions. According to another study, published in September of this year, people who self harm are 2 times as likely to die prematurely.

Written by Christine Kearney