The Science of Self-Harming
Written by Craig Rogers, in Section Youth Trends
More young people seem to be self-harming over the past decade.
Why? It's perhaps the most common and reasonable question that a parent will ask themselves when they discover that their child is self-harming. Teens are getting more creative in the ways that they harm their bodies, using anything from razors, to lighters, to needles. So it can be hard to understand why these teens seem so addicted to things that seem so outrageous. Often, parents will wonder if the child is trying to do irreversible damage by attempting suicide, and while teens who self-harm are more likely to attempt suicide, the answers may not be as clear as parents would like.
Experts define self-harm as "deliberate discrete destruction of body tissue without the intent of suicide," according to Kimberly Harrison, postdoctoral practitioner at Park Center Inc., a mental health treatment center in Fort Wayne, Ind. As difficult as it can be to understand, it is important to note that not every teen who self-harms is looking to commit suicide. That doesn't mean that it's not a cry for help though. Statistics suggest that over the past couple of decades, more teens have attempted to hurt their body. While the numbers aren't entirely clear (some studies suggest only 4 percent of teens self-harm, but another puts that number closer to 38 percent), it is nonetheless a problem that parents must be aware of.
Janis Whitlock, a researcher at Cornell University recently published a review article on non-suicidal self-injury, or self-harming. "The vast majority of people who report non-suicidal self-injury are not trying to end their life, they're trying to cope with life," said Whitlock, "It's absolutely the opposite of what suicide is."
The science for why teens are using razors, lighters, needles and more to hurt themselves.
The reasons for self-harming can vary widely, differing from person to person. Most surprising though, is that experts have compared self-harming to using drugs or sex to cope with the negative emotions that drive an individual to harm themselves. This is because those who participate in it, often report feelings of calm and a sense of relief in the moments following the act. These soothing feelings are released by the brain as endorphins.
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