November 3, 2012
Self-Harm In Adolescents May Not Be Linked To Mental Illness
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
Youngsters who intentionally harm themselves aren't necessarily demonstrating signs of mental illness, according to research presented recently at Lund University in Sweden.
Psychologist Jonas BjÃ¤rehed, author of the thesis entitled "Characteristics of Self-Injury in Young Adolescents: Findings from Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Studies in Swedish Schools," and his supervisor Lars Gunnar Lund surveyed 1,000 young people in the southern part of the country starting in 2006.
He discovered 40% of them had purposefully injured themselves at some point, but only "a small minority" of them did so on a regular basis, comparable to adults dealing with mental health issues, the university said in a Friday press release.
"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," BjÃ¤rehed said.
"For many of these young people, the behavior seems to be fairly mild and often of a temporary nature," he added. "It may be viewed as a matter of experimentation or problems that are not of a serious nature."
Knowledge of self-harm was limited among professional organizations when BjÃ¤rehed began his research six years ago, the university said. Nowadays, the situation has changed, with some issues (including eating disorders amongst youngsters) now well-known among school staff and health care professionals.
BjÃ¤rehed said he hopes awareness of self-harm issues will soon become as widespread, because even if teenagers who injure themselves are not suffering from a mental illness, the behavior can become "a vicious circle." Once a person starts, the risk that they will continue harming themselves increases, which can lead to deterioration of their mental health, even if there wasn't any to begin win.
"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," he said. "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," BjÃ¤rehed added.