Rising Self-Harm Among Teens: Understanding the Causes and Solutions

Apr 13, 2023 | Anxiety, Depression, Mental Health, Self Esteem, Self-Harm, Stress

Mental health has always been an important issue, but it has become even more pressing in recent years, especially among teenagers. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 10-20% of adolescents worldwide experience mental health issues, with depression and anxiety being the most common. One alarming trend that has emerged in recent years is the increase in self-harm among teenagers.

As of this year, young people are increasingly considering suicide, with suicide being the second leading cause of death among this younger age group. In 2020, emergency room visits for suspected suicide attempts increased by 31% for adolescents aged 12 to 17, with visits for girls being nearly 51% higher than in 2019, according to the CDC. This alarming data highlights just how common self-harm has become amongst adolescents and gives rise to the severity of the situation at hand.

What Is Self-Harm?

Self-harm is defined as any deliberate, non-suicidal behavior that causes physical harm to oneself. It is also known as self-injury or self-mutilation. The most common forms of self-harm include cutting, burning, hitting oneself, pulling out hair, and scratching oneself. While self-harm is not an attempt at suicide, it is still a serious issue that can cause long-term physical and psychological harm.

Why Is Self-Harm Increasing Among Teenagers?

There are many factors that contribute to the increase in self-harm among teenagers. Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Social Media: Social media has become an integral part of teenagers’ lives. While social media can be a great way to connect with others, it can also be a source of stress and anxiety. Many teenagers feel pressure to present a perfect image of themselves online, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. Social media can also expose teenagers to harmful content, such as graphic images of self-harm, which can trigger their own self-harming behaviors.
  • Academic Pressure: Teenagers today face immense pressure to succeed academically. They are expected to maintain high grades, participate in extracurricular activities, and prepare for college. This pressure can be overwhelming and can lead to feelings of stress and anxiety. For some teenagers, self-harm can be a way to cope with these feelings.
  • Bullying: Bullying has always been a problem in schools, but it has become even more pervasive with the rise of social media. Cyberbullying can be especially damaging, as it can follow teenagers wherever they go online. Bullying can lead to feelings of isolation, low self-esteem, and depression, which can contribute to self-harming behaviors.
  • Trauma: Many teenagers have experienced trauma in their lives, such as physical or sexual abuse, neglect, or the death of a loved one. Trauma can lead to a range of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For some teenagers, self-harm can be a way to cope with these feelings. Self-harm in teenagers is also a concern for future generations as it can perpetuate a cycle of negative behaviors and emotional distress. When teenagers engage in self-harm, they may be modeling this behavior to younger siblings or peers, normalizing and reinforcing the idea that self-harm is an acceptable way to cope with emotional pain. This can lead to a generational cycle of self-harm and emotional distress that can be difficult to break.
  • Lack Of Support: Teenagers who do not have a strong support system, such as parents or friends, are more vulnerable to mental health issues. They may feel alone and isolated, which can contribute to self-harming behaviors. Additionally, many teenagers are hesitant to seek help for their mental health issues, either because of stigma or because they do not know where to turn.
What Can Be Done To Address This?

Self-harm is a complex issue that requires a multifaceted approach. Below are some of the ways that individuals and society as a whole can work to address this problem:

  • Education: Education is key to preventing self-harm. Teenagers need to be educated about the dangers of self-harm and the resources available to them if they are struggling with their mental health. Schools can play a key role in providing this education, by incorporating mental health education into their curriculum.
  • Mental health support: Teenagers who are struggling with their mental health need access to support. This can include therapy, counseling, and support groups. Schools and healthcare providers can work together to provide these resources to teenagers who need them. Additionally, parents and caregivers can play a role in providing support to teenagers by creating a safe and open environment for them to talk about their feelings.
  • Addressing social media: Social media companies can play a role in preventing self-harm by taking a more proactive approach to addressing harmful content. They can potentially use algorithms to detect and remove content that promotes self-harm, and they can provide resources to users who are struggling with their mental health. Parents and caregivers can also help by monitoring their teenagers’ social media use and having open conversations about the potential dangers.
  • Addressing academic pressure: Schools can work to reduce academic pressure by implementing policies that prioritize students’ well-being over their grades. This can include reducing the amount of homework assigned, providing mental health resources to students, and creating a supportive school culture. Parents and caregivers can also play a role by encouraging their teenagers to prioritize their mental health and providing them with the resources they need to succeed academically without sacrificing their well-being.
  • Confronting bullying: Bullying can be prevented by creating a safe and supportive school environment. Schools can implement anti-bullying policies, provide training to teachers and staff on how to address bullying and create peer support groups for students who have been bullied. Parents and caregivers can also play a role by teaching their teenagers how to stand up to bullies and creating a supportive home environment.
  • Early intervention: Early intervention is key to preventing self-harm. Teachers, parents, and healthcare providers should be trained to recognize the signs of self-harm and provide early intervention to teenagers who are struggling. This can include referring them to mental health resources and providing support and guidance.

For those that have acted on their suicidal ideation, receiving outpatient intervention within seven or fewer days of their release from the hospital has been shown to actually decrease their risk of self-harm in the future. This highlights exactly how critical adequate care is both before and following any self-harm incidences.

Addressing the rise in self-harm among teenagers is a work in progress that requires widespread cooperation. While helping teens understand the importance of taking care of themselves is a crucial intervention, it is up to those in positions of power to continue working towards a safer environment for adolescents to exist in. With the dangers of social media and generally increased trauma, teens are faced with a more daunting experience than previous generations. 

Self-harm is a serious issue that is increasing among teenagers with each passing year. There are many factors that contribute to this trend, including social media, academic pressure, and a lack of support. Addressing this issue requires a multifaceted approach that includes education, mental health support, and early intervention. By working together, we can create a world where teenagers feel safe, supported, and empowered to prioritize their mental health.

New Dimensions Can Help!

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, New Dimensions can help.  New Dimensions has treatment programs for adolescents and adults who are struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues.  We have locations in Katy, The Woodlands, and Houston, Texas and have virtual telehealth treatment programs for adults who reside within the State of Texas.  To learn more contact us at 800-685-9796 or visit our website at www.nddtreatment.com.  You can also find individual, couples, and family therapists at www.mhthrive.com.