Self Injury May Start at Older Ages

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According to an article in the Medical Journal of Australia, self injury may begin at older ages than previously reported. This research is important since self injury is a world wide problem.

About one percent of the total U.S. population, or between 2 and 3 million people, exhibit some type of self-abusive behavior. But that number includes those with eating disorders like anorexia, as well as those who self injure.

Graham Martin, Professor and Director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Queensland, and co-authors conducted a cross-sectional study to gain an accurate understanding of self-injury and its correlates in the Australian population.

They sampled from over 1,200 Australians that were randomly selected households, participated in the study. What they found was in the four weeks before the survey, 1.1 per cent of the sample self-injured. Six-month prevalence was 1.8 per cent. Lifetime prevalence was 8.1 per cent.

For females, self-injury peaked between 15 and 24 years of age. For males, it peaked between 10 and 19 years of age. The average age of onset was 17 years, but the oldest was 44 for males and 60 for females.

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Self-injury (self-harm, self-mutilation) can be defined as the attempt to deliberately cause harm to one's own body and the injury is usually severe enough to cause tissue damage. This is not a conscious attempt at suicide, though some people may see it that way.

It has been reported that many people who self-injure have a history of sexual or physical abuse, but that is not always the case. Some may come from broken homes, alcoholic homes, have emotionally absent parents, etc. There are many factors that could cause someone to self-injure as a way to cope.

Prof Martin said that most of the self-injurers in the study reported discussing the problem with someone, but only a third had sought help.

"Self-injurers are more likely to have mental health problems and are at higher risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviour than non-self-injurers, and many self-injurers do not seek help.

"The rate of self-injury in Australia in the four weeks before the survey was substantial, and onset of self-injury may occur at older ages than previously thought," Prof Martin said.

"The rate in males across the age range challenges previously held beliefs that self-injury is predominantly a problem for women; clearly it is not."

"The personal and financial costs are likely to be high, and further research is needed to determine the most appropriate and cost-effective strategies for prevention."

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