Self harm among young Australians is on the increase, and more needs to be done to understand and address the problem.
This is the call from Garry King, a researcher from Griffith’s Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention.
He says that although the statistics on self harm (also known as non-suicidal self injury) provide differing figures, there is a strong perception of a significant increase over the past two decades, with most of the research indicating a figure of 10%-20% of young people self-injuring at some stage.
Speaking at Griffith University’s Mount Gravatt campus last week, Mr King referred to current prevalence rates of 17% among females aged 15-18 and 12% among males of the same age.
“One of the difficulties of obtaining figures for this issue is that young people can often be quite secretive about what they’re doing, with up to a third potentially not telling anybody,” says Mr King. “Figures for males especially, are likely to go under reported as we already know that they are not good at seeking help.
Awareness with the digital age
“However we definitely know from much anecdotal evidence that self harm is on the increase across the country, and that awareness of the issue has been greatly heightened with the prevalence of the digital age.”
Mr King says the biggest challenge is that people are not aware of how to respond to self-harming in young people.
“We know from the workshops that we offer to the likes of schools, youth clubs and employment agencies, that they are struggling with how to deal with it. This is also an extremely frightening issue for parents on many levels.
“But we know that young people are starting to articulate more and more about the stress they are experiencing.
“They appear to have a vast amount of information to process now on a daily basis and sometimes they can become overwhelmed with emotions and don’t know how to process what they are feeling. This can then sometimes result in a self harming behaviour, also known as a maladaptive coping strategy.
“As part of the workshops we offer, we teach strategies around resilience in young people. This means building their confidence and comfort in dealing with difficult situations. Social connectedness is a part of this and an important factor for this group.
“Any social support outlets or cultural activities that keep young people engaged with their peers and which help them to feel like they’re being listened to go a long way to ensuring that emotions are being regulated and managed and hence they can be more protected from the potential of self harm.”
Mr King says that at present there are no specific pharmacological interventions to address the issue of self harm, but that treatments such as cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and dialectic behaviourial therapy (DBT) continue to show great promise.
“It remains a hopeful time in trying to understand more about this issue and also the links between self harm and suicide, with the former being a significant risk factor in the later development of suicidal behaviour.
“Fortunately awareness is growing fast, with stigma around the problem also beginning to diminish and people being more open to dealing with the complexities.”