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Study: 8% of teens cut or harm themselves, but many stop abruptly

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November 17, 2011|By Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Many teens cut, burn or otherwise harm themselves, but the behavior tends to end in late adolescence, according to a study published in the Lancet.
Many teens cut, burn or otherwise harm themselves, but the behavior tends… (PR Newswire )

Cutting, burning and other forms of self-harm behaviors occur in 8% of all teenagers, according to a study released Thursday.

While common, however, the study suggests that the practice of self-harm typically vanishes in late adolescence -- often without any mental-health treatment.

That doesn't mean, however, that parents should ignore the behavior, say the authors of the study, published Wednesday in the Lancet. Many youths who cut or burn themselves have underlying mental-health problems, such as depression or anxiety, that commonly persist into adulthood.

The study is the first to examine kids who harm themselves as they move into adulthood. British and Australian researchers followed 1,802 teens in Victoria, Australia, from 1992 to 2008. Among this group, 1 in 12 kids said they had harmed themselves.

The study found that most kids mature out of the behavior in their late teen years, typically without help from anyone else. By age 29, only 1% continued to self-harm.

However, youths who practiced self-harm at any time were 3.7 times more likely to have depression or anxiety. Kids who self-harmed also had a higher risk of antisocial behavior and drug use.

It should be reassuring to parents to know that self-harm often is a temporary behavior, the authors said. But parents should look closely at their teens' overall mental health.

"Our findings suggest that the treatment of such problems might have additional benefits in terms of reducing the suffering and disability associated with self-harm in later years," they wrote.

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