Younger children copy peers with self-harm

16:00, Feb 03 2013

Children as young as 13 have been treated in hospital in the Waikato for self-harm injuries.

Data provided to the Waikato Times shows 37 teens were admitted to Waikato DHB facilities for "intentional harm with a sharp object" in the last four years.

Prior to 2011 most of them were aged 15 or over, but since then 13 and 14-year-olds had been showing up.

That is just part of the picture, as Youthline reports that the young people who call or text to seek help with self-harm - about 200 each month - are getting younger.

Victoria University associate psychology professor Marc Wilson is the lead researcher in a four-year, Wellington-based, study to learn more about the reasons for self-harm.

In 2010 researchers found that 49.7 per cent of more than 1200 pupils surveyed had harmed themselves deliberately at least once - 20 per cent regularly.


This included injuries that caused soft-tissue damage, such as cutting, burning, scratching themselves with nails or implements, sticking pins into their bodies, rubbing sandpaper or glass on to their skin, or breaking their own bones.

Dr Wilson said research so far showed 14 was the age most started self-harming, but he wasn't surprised younger kids were starting to do it.

"Teens are seeing more of it among their peers, so they're more aware of it as one of the options available."

Youthline clinical services manager Glenda Schnell agreed teens were mirroring what they saw their older peers doing.

"It's the contagion sort of effect. If there are older people in their lives doing it, for them it becomes a reality and they think it's an option."

Dr Wilson said self harming was an avoidance coping strategy teens used to avoid dealing with stressful situations front on, such as bullying.

"They are trying to avoid overwhelming negative feelings and emotions; they're doing it to punish themselves or because they feel unworthy. But sometimes they're just trying it to feel anything at all."

He said self-harmers had often been bullied and cyber-bullying had added an extra element to that.

Not all self-harm was a sign a child wanted to end their life, so parents shouldn't "freak out" if they found their child self-harming. They should instead talk about it seriously without overdramatising it.

Youthline: 0800 376 633

Waikato Times