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Deliberate self harm higher in female adolescents

Tuesday 26 February 2008

Deliberate self harm higher in female adolescents

The Director of the Centre for Suicide Research at the University of Oxford says that adolescent self-harm is a significant and growing problem in many developed countries, with cases often never coming to the attention of clinicians and hospitals.

Professor Keith Hawton is a visiting Professor at the University of Otago and a leading international authority on deliberate self-harm in adolescents, particularly in Europe and the UK.

He will be presenting latest international research findings in this sensitive area at a public lecture at the University of Otago, Christchurch on Wednesday February 27 at 7.30pm.

“Self harm is essentially any acute intentional act of self injury or self poisoning. Research into deliberate self-harm in adolescents has made significant progress in recent years. We now know that females are much more likely to engage in this activity than males, and that it’s closely linked to puberty and the development of emotional relationships,” he says. “It’s also linked to increased alcohol and drug use and the development of mood disorders such as depression.”

Professor Hawton says the male/female contrasts are significant. A recent major European study of 25,000 adolescents shows three times as many teenage girls engage in deliberate self-harm compared to boys.

Professor Hawton has recently published another book on this subject, “By Their Own Hand”, which explores the first large scale survey of self harm and suicidal thinking in 6000 adolescents in the UK, and draws out implications for prevention strategies and mental health promotion.

He says other international studies have shown that around 10% of adolescents have a history of self-harm, with many European countries having similar figures, although there are some exceptions such as the Netherlands and Hungary.

There are a range of motivations for self-harm, from attempted suicide to other motives such as communication of distress, with 50% of adolescents saying they engaged in deliberate self harm because they ‘wanted to die’. It often follows life events which affect mood and depression, as well as exposure to self-harm by peers and ‘copy-cat’ attempts.

“Motivation and early warning signs or predictors are difficult. However, I will discuss these areas, as they are important for preventive intervention by social agencies, family and friends.”

Professor Hawton’s lecture “Deliberate self harm in adolescents” is part of the Health Lecture Series at the University of Otago, Christchurch on Wednesday 27 February, at 7.30pm, in the Rolleston Lecture Theatre.


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