Far more young people than adults tend to self-harm. Therefore, according to new research, it may not be the best practice to compare young people who self-harm with adult psychiatric patients who do the same.
A closer look into a young person’s behavior is necessary so that a mental illness diagnosis is not given where none exists.
For the study, psychologist Dr. Jonas Bjärehed — who recently presented his thesis at Lund University in Sweden — and his supervisor, Dr. Lars Gunnar Lund, conducted a survey of 1,000 young people in southern Sweden.
They found that four out of 10 had at some point intentionally harmed themselves.
After breaking down the data, it appeared that only a small portion of these young people self-harmed on a regular basis and in a way that could compare to self-harm in adults with mental disorders.
“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,” said Bjärehed.
“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.”
Bjärehed said that while many signs of stress and mental illness appear to be increasing in our society, especially among young people, researchers have been unable to say exactly 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,” he said.
Even if many teens who self-harm do not have a mental disorder, the behavior can become a vicious cycle — once self-harmers begin, the risk is greater that they will continue and the self-harm could cause their mental health to deteriorate.
Source: Lund University