(CBS) Cutting, burning, and other forms of deliberate self-harm are surprisingly common among adolescents, with a new study showing that one in 12 teens engages in the disturbing behavior.
Ninety percent of adolescents who self-harm outgrow the behavior by early adulthood without treatment, the study showed. But experts don't seem to find that especially reassuring, given that self-harm is linked to an increased risk for suicide.
The authors concluded that "young people who self-harm often have mental health problems that might not resolve without treatment, as evidenced in the strong relation detected between adolescent anxiety and depression and an increased risk of self-harm in young adulthood," according to HealthDay.
Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the English mental health charity SANE, told the BBC, "Our research shows that counter to common perception, people self-harm and continue to self-harm at times throughout their lives."
For the study - published online in The Lancet - researchers used questionnaires and telephone surveys to track almost 2,000 adolescents in Victoria, Australia from 1992 to 2008. Ten percent of adolescent girls reported self-harm, along with 6 percent of adolescent boys.
Self-harm was strongly associated with depression, anxiety, smoking tobacco or marijuana, and risky drinking.
What explains self-harming behavior? Study author Dr. George Patton, of the Children's Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia, told HealthDay that it's about teen's struggle for control over difficult emotions. "Self-harming represents a way of dealing with those emotions," he said.
Study author Dr.Paul Moran, of King's College London's Institute of Psychiatry, put the blame on family strife and peer pressure as well as hormonal and brain changes that occur during adolescence. He told Reuters, "Hormonal changes are highly likely to be important in creating a sort of chemical melting pot which is very ripe for environmental factors to start working on - particularly difficult family dynamics."
Helpguide.org has more on cutting and self-harm.