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Some Teens Deliberately Harm Themselves

Occasionally, the goal is suicide, researchers say

FRIDAY, Nov. 22, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- New British research confirms something that psychologists across the Atlantic have already discovered: It's not uncommon for teenagers to try to harm themselves, especially through rituals like cutting.

Sometimes, suicide is the goal of those self-inflicted injuries.

Seven percent of British teens surveyed admitted that they had tried to harm themselves within the past year. By comparison, U.S. studies have found that about 8 percent of high school students said they had tried to commit suicide during the same time period, says Daniel Romer, a suicide expert and research director for the University of Pennsylvania's Institute for Adolescent Risk Communication.

"We get a remarkably similar percentage," Romer says.

British researchers surveyed 6,000 students aged 15-16 from 41 schools in England. The surveys were anonymous.

The findings appear in the Nov. 23 issue of the British Medical Journal.

While 7 percent of the students reported trying to hurt themselves, only 13 percent of the incidents resulted in a trip to a hospital.

By contrast, American research shows that teens in the United States who try to commit suicide appear to be much more likely to do serious harm to themselves, Romer says.

About two-thirds of the British incidents involved teens who cut themselves. Most of the rest involved drug overdoses, sometimes of painkillers, says study co-author Keith Hawton, a professor of psychiatry at the Center for Suicide Research at Warneford Hospital in Oxford, England.

The British study also found that females were four times more likely to try to hurt themselves than males. Both boys and girls were more likely to harm themselves if they used drugs, suffered from low self-esteem, or were exposed to friends or family members who were violent toward themselves. "Self-harm" problems among girls were aggravated by depression, anxiety and impulsive behaviors, according to the study.

Both sexes attributed their desire to hurt themselves to depression and problems with family members and boyfriends or girlfriends, Hawton says.

Britain is stepping up efforts to prevent suicide and self harm among teen-agers, Hawton says.

Romer says the issue is also getting more attention in the United States, especially since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines to schools last December about the prevention of self-inflicted injuries among teens.

"Schools can definitely do more in the way of suicide prevention to help those at risk, including programs to reduce stigma for seeking help, crisis management for those who identify themselves as suicidal, and primary prevention in the curriculum," he says.

The challenges in the future include figuring out how to prevent depression in teens and determining the best ways to identify suicidal teens, Romer says.

What To Do

For suicide prevention resources, try the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention or the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

SOURCES: Keith Hawton, professor of psychiatry, Center for Suicide Research, University Department of Psychiatry, Warneford Hospital, Oxford, England; Daniel Romer, Ph.D., research director, Institute for Adolescent Risk Communication, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; Nov. 23, 2002, British Medical Journal
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