Why are Young People Harming Themselves?

Why are Young People Harming Themselves?

Ann Bailey

Suicide, substance abuse, over-dosing, cutting, eating disorders, and other forms of self-injury are all obvious signs of distress and trauma among young people.  The number of adolescents who exhibit these destructive behaviors has been increasing for several decades.  Ever asked why?  Researchers in Australia provide some possible answers.

Scholars at the University of Western Australia and Curtin University of Technology (Perth) examined the data on adolescents who had been hospitalized for Deliberate Self-Harm (DSH).  What they discovered should give pause to those who claim that divorce doesn’t harm children (“oh, they they’ll get over it soon enough”).  Looking at 2,736 children between the ages of four and 16 (data from 1993 and 2007), the researchers established a clear link between family background and hospitalization for self-inflicted injuries.

“Children who were living in a step or blended family arrangement in 1993, compared with those living in original two-parent families, were at elevated risk for hospitalization for DSH later in life,” report the researchers.  It wasn’t just a small elevated risk either.  Children in step-parent or blended families faced “2.28 times the risk for hospitalization with DSH” than children that lived in intact families.

Bottom line:  Many children who are subject to divorce and find themselves in step or blended families are struggling; struggling with the turmoil in their lives to the point that they inflict serious injury upon themselves.  We as parents and society need to not be so glib and cavalier in our attitudes regarding divorce.   Divorce is harming our children and we need to not be afraid to say so.

The next time I see a media report on an adolescent suicide or other forms of DSH, you can be sure this study is going to come to mind and I’m going to wonder about the story behind the headline.

To see more of the available research on the impact of divorce, go here.

Francis Mitrou et al., “Antecedents of Hospital Admission for Deliberate Self-Harm from a 14–Year Follow-Up Study Using Data-Linkage,” BMC Psychiatry 10 (October 18, 2010): pg. 82

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