When Children Hurt Themselves

Self injury and cutting among children tallied up in recent study

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Although mental health conditions tend to be invisible, residing inside one's head, there are times when they show up as actual injuries, such as children who cut or injure themselves.

A recent study investigated the incidence of self-injury without an intention to commit suicide among grade school children and young adolescents.

The researchers found that one in 12 children has cut, carved, scratched, hit or otherwise hurt themselves intentionally at least once in their lifetimes.

"If you notice suspicious cuts on your child, talk to them."

Andrea Barrocas, MA, of the Department of Psychology at the University of Denver, and colleagues wanted to find out what the rate of self-injury was among children and what methods they used.

After contacting 1,108 children in the third, sixth and ninth grades for the study, a total of 665 of them, aged 7 to 16, participated.

Each child was interviewed about whether they had engaged in non-suicidal self-injury and details about it using the Self-Injurious Thoughts and Behaviors Interview.

They found that 8 percent of the children interviewed had done some form of self-injury in their lifetimes, which included 9 percent of the girls and 6.7 percent of the boys.

A total of 1.5 percent of the children met the proposed definition for a diagnosis of non-suicidal self-injury in the upcoming Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V (DSM-5).

The highest rate of self-injury was reported among ninth graders, though since they were reporting lifetime occurrences, these children also had lived more years in which to engage in cutting or similar behaviors.

While 12.7 percent of ninth graders reported self-injurying at some point in their lives, 4 percent of sixth graders and 7.6 percent of third graders did. Within ninth grade, girls injured themselves at almost four times the rate as boys: 19 percent among the girls compared to 5 percent among boys.

The methods of self-injury also varied by gender. Girls tended to cut or carve their skin while boys usually hit themselves more often.

The authors conclude that since non-suicidal self-injury is being added to the DSM-5 as a mental health condition, it is important to better understand the phenomenon and who is most at risk.

The study appeared online ahead of print June 11 in the journal Pediatrics, where it will appear in the July issue. The research was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institutes of Health. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 12, 2012
Last Updated:
October 29, 2012