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How many teenagers deliberately hurt themselves and why do they do that?

Posted October 11, 2017

Being a teenager is not easy by any means. Emotions, trying to fit in, thinking about the future and all decisions you are forced to make when you don‘t even feel ready are so taxing mentally and emotionally many people decide to hurt themselves physically. A new study from the Victoria University of Wellington looked into how often and for what reasons do children deliberately hurt themselves.

Teenagers hurt themselves because they don’t have skills to deal with their emotions. Image credit: Santeri Viinamäki via Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 4.0)

This study, involving students aged between 13 and 18, took place from 2012 to 2016, in New Zealand. While the statistical data may be local, some of the reasons why children choose to inflict injuries to themselves may carry over to other countries as well. Researchers have found that just under a third of teenagers deliberately hurt themselves. The most common reason for such behaviour – managing emotions. But they also do this as a self-punishment or even just wanting to feel something.

Scientists were not surprised to find out that those children who were not equipped or skilled to deal with their raging emotions were more prone to hurting themselves. This, while a very obvious cause for self-inflicted harm, is quite interesting. It is possible to observe one’s ability to deal with emotions and, of course, it is possible to help teenagers to learn how to do this. Professor Marc Wilson, leader of the study, said: “young people’s emotion regulation skills predicted future self-injury, but self-injury also impaired future emotional skills development. Essentially, because self-injury provided relief for some young people, they may have come to rely on it rather than seeking out safer ways to manage their emotions”. Also, remember that this study did not focus on suicide, which is often caused by the same reasons.

Teachers and parents should try and be aware of the emotional state of the students. While some signs may not be easy to notice, adults should realize that the time is not easy for the child. They can remember this period of their life themselves, probably, and can start talking to teenagers early to try to equip them with necessary knowledge to deal with these emotions.

Scientists now will see if there is any relation between non-suicidal self-injury and suicide. Emotion regulation training programme for young people is also in the plans. It is such a tragedy when a young person feels the need to hurt himself just to feel something and it is totally preventable.


Source: Victoria University of Wellington

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