By John Hand –
America’s adolescents are in increasing danger. A growing number of these young people are not only suffering from depression, anxiety and behavioral issues, they are also moving to self-harm and even suicide. These mental health issues, among other factors, are at least linked to this dangerous trend if not driving it.
“The U.S. is in the midst of a mental health crisis, with mental health diagnoses and hospitalizations surging over the past few years, and many of these hospitalizations are for self-harm events or concern for future self-harm,” reported Dr. James Antoon, an assistant professor at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University.
The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) supported Antoon’s position via its recently released Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which showed growth in both self-harm and attempted suicide rates.
The CDC’s survey queried high school students across all fifty states about their thoughts and behaviors. Female students were apparently most at risk as between 2019 and 2021 the percentage of young women who considered suicide rose from 24.1 percent to 30 percent. Those who planned a suicide increased from 19.9 percent to 23.6 percent and those who actually attempted suicide jumped from 11 percent to 13 percent.
The percentage of male students at risk was not as high, but still troubling. Those with suicidal thoughts rose from 13.3 percent to 14.3 percent, while there was a slight increase in attempted suicides from 11.3 percent to 11.6 percent during this time.
Suicide is so prevalent among adolescents that it is now the third leading cause of suicidal death among those 14 to 18 years old, with nine suicides for every 100,000 individuals.
Self-harm among the young is also cause for alarm. The Recovery Village reports that approximately 17 percent of all people self-harm during their lifetime; females are more likely to self-harm than males; and the average age of self-harmers is 13.
In technical terms, the practice involves anything a person does that intentionally injures themselves including death. This can include habits like cutting, burning or scratching.
Self-harm is not a mental disorder in itself, but rather may be the consequence of other disorders tied to eating, drug or alcohol abuse, depression and anxiety. Since an estimated 10 percent of adolescents and young adults suffer from depression and anxiety, the rise in self-harming activities may not be surprising.
The practice can also be fueled or at least associated with being bullied, feeling overwhelmed and having self-image issues. There is also a higher percentage of people who self-harm among those who have family members or friends who hurt themselves, live in social isolation or who encounter stressful situations like traumatic family events, instability or uncertainty regarding sexual identity.
Young people who harm themselves are more likely to seek help from a friend than a medical professional, which is why Healthychildren.org recommends that parents and caregivers are alert to warning signs and what they can do to prevent harmful activities or at least reduce the risk. These efforts include looking for signs of cuts on arms or wrists, talking to possible self-harmers, trying to create safer home environments and working with medical professionals to address challenges.