Self-harm not always a sign of serious mental health problems

November 2, 2012

Knowledge is needed in order not to over-interpret the behaviour of the young people, according to psychologist Jonas Bjärehed, who has recently presented his thesis at Lund University in Sweden.

Jonas Bjärehed and his supervisor Lars Gunnar Lund carried out a survey of 1,000 young people in southern Sweden which showed that four out of ten young people had at some time intentionally hurt themselves.

The researchers have now broken down the data and it appears that only a of the young people self-harm on a regular basis and in a way that can be compared with self-harm in adults with problems.

"It is important that school and know how to deal with young people who self-harm. They need to react appropriately and not judge all young people alike," says Jonas Bjärehed.

"For many of these young people, the behaviour seems to be fairly mild and often of a temporary nature. It may be viewed as a matter of experimentation or problems that are not of a serious nature."

When Jonas Bjärehed began his research six years ago, knowledge about self-harm was limited among many professional groups that come into contact with young people.

However, the situation is improving: Nowadays, knowledge of in young people is well established among school and health service staff.

Jonas Bjärehed hopes that awareness of self-harm will also become as widespread. Even if all young people who self-harm do not suffer from , the behaviour can become a vicious circle: once a person has started, the risk is greater that they will continue and the self-harm causes their mental health to deteriorate.

Jonas Bjärehed calls self-harm the teenage disease of our day: "It is not the first time young people worry those around them with new types of behaviour," he says, giving the examples of the increase in eating disorders in the 1970s and 80s and the 'hysterics,' who worried those around them at the turn of the last century by fainting for various reasons.

"Nowadays, we are grappling with the fact that many signs of stress and mental illness appear to be increasing in our society, especially among young people, without us really understanding why. The fact that many young people suffer during a time in their lives when they are in the process of becoming adults and developing the skills they need to contribute to society has become a serious public health problem.

An important challenge is to understand this trend and the signs of mental illness that we are seeing in , in order to be able to take the necessary measures to prevent it or provide help," says Jonas Bjärehed.

Explore further: 1 in 12 teenagers self-harm but most stop by their twenties

More information: Jonas Bjärehed defended his thesis on 28 September. The thesis is entitled "Characteristics of Self-Injury in Young Adolescents: Findings from Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Studies in Swedish Schools".

Related Stories

1 in 12 teenagers self-harm but most stop by their twenties

November 18, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Despite self-harm being one of the strongest predictors of completed suicide, 90% of young people who self-harm as adolescents cease self-harming once they reach young adulthood. However, those who start ...

Young drivers who take risks on the road have a greater risk of mental health problems

May 16, 2011
Young adults who take risks when driving are more likely to experience psychological distress, including mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, reveals research published ahead of print in Injury Prevention.

Majority of self-harming adolescents don't receive a mental health assessment in ERs

January 30, 2012
A national study of Medicaid data shows most young people who present to emergency departments with deliberate self-harm are discharged to the community, without receiving an emergency mental health assessment. Even more, ...

Health data can help address alcohol-related harm in youth

June 13, 2011
Administrative information can be useful for surveillance and understanding of alcohol-related harm in young people, states an article in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

Recommended for you

Researchers find common psychological traits in group of Italians aged 90 to 101

December 12, 2017
In remote Italian villages nestled between the Mediterranean Sea and mountains lives a group of several hundred citizens over the age of 90. Researchers at the University of Rome La Sapienza and University of California San ...

New therapy can help schizophrenia sufferers re-engage socially

December 11, 2017
A new therapy aimed at helping young people suffering from schizophrenia to reconnect and engage with the world around them has had promising results, according to a new University of Sussex-led study.

Twitter can reveal our shared mood

December 11, 2017
In the largest study of its kind, researchers from the University of Bristol have analysed mood indicators in text from 800 million anonymous messages posted on Twitter. These tweets were found to reflect strong patterns ...

Certain books can increase infant learning during shared reading, study shows

December 11, 2017
Parents and pediatricians know that reading to infants is a good thing, but new research shows reading books that clearly name and label people and objects is even better.

Many different types of anxiety and depression exist, new study finds

December 8, 2017
Five new categories of mental illness that cut across the current more broad diagnoses of anxiety and depression have been identified by researchers in a Stanford-led study.

Study sheds light on the voices in our head

December 8, 2017
New research showing that talking to ourselves in our heads may be the same as speaking our thoughts out loud could help explain why people with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia hear voices.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.