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How to Recognize Teens at Risk for Self-Harm

How to Recognize Teens at Risk for Self-HarmIt’s a startling statistic: Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for teens, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In response, a University of Missouri public health expert has identified factors that will help parents, medical professionals and educators recognize teens at risk for self injury and suicide.

“For many young people, suicide represents an escape from unbearable situations — problems that seem impossible to solve or negative emotions that feel overwhelming,” said Lindsay Taliaferro, Ph.D., an assistant professor of health sciences.

“Adults can help these teens dissect their problems, help them develop healthful coping strategies, and facilitate access to mental health care so their problems don’t seem insurmountable.”

Taliaferro analyzed data from the 2007 Minnesota Student Survey to pinpoint factors associated with self-injury.

Of the more than 60,000 Minnesota high school students who completed the survey, more than 4,000 teens — roughly the same size as the student bodies at two large high schools — reported injuring themselves in the past year. Nearly half of those who reported self-injury also had attempted suicide.

“Of the teens who engaged in non-suicidal self injury, hopelessness was a prominent factor that differentiated those who attempted suicide from those who did not have a history of suicide attempts,” Taliaferro said.

Parents, teachers and medical professionals sometimes avoid talking to teens about self-harm because they aren’t sure how to help, she said, noting that adults don’t need to solve all the teen’s problems, just act as a sounding board.

“Sometimes just talking about their feelings allows young people to articulate what they’re going through and to feel understood, which can provide comfort,” she said.

Taliaferro recommends that parents strengthen connections with their teens and help foster connections between their children and other positive adult influences.

“One of the most important protective factors against teens engaging in self-injury was parent connectedness, and, for females, connections with other prosocial adults also were associated with reduced likelihood of engaging in self-injury,” Taliaferro said.

Although parents play influential roles in teens’ lives, Taliaferro said mental health professionals are the best resources for troubled teens. Medical professionals, such as primary care physicians, can also serve crucial roles by identifying teens who self-injure and referring them to community support systems and mental health specialists before their behaviors escalate, Taliaferro said.

Taliaferro’s study was published in Academic Pediatrics. She collaborated with researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, the University of Minnesota and the Pennsylvania State University.

Source: University of Missouri

Depressed teenager holding help sign photo by shutterstock.

How to Recognize Teens at Risk for Self-Harm

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). How to Recognize Teens at Risk for Self-Harm. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 7 Oct 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.