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Growing Up In Australia study: Teen girls more likely to self-harm

by Mary Sewell

A new report has found that almost one in three Australian teens has considered hurting themselves, and girls are twice as likely to self-harm than boys. Nearly a third of Australian teenagers have considered hurting themselves, and girls are twice as likely to self-harm compared to boys. The same study shows that young people who are same-sex attracted are significantly more likely to self-injure than those who are not. And, bullying and poor sleep and depression,

and anxiety are all associated with a higher risk of self-injury. New research revealed by the Australian Institute of Family Studies has found that 30 percent of teenagers had considered self-injury between 14 and 17. At the same time, 18 percent reported acts of self-harm. The findings are “concerning,” according to Dr. Pilar Rioseco, one of the authors behind the Growing Up in Australia study, which follows 10,000 teenagers born between 1999 and 2004.


“Thoughts and acts of self-injury increase as adolescents become older,” Dr. Rioseco said.

“At age 14-15, 16.4 percent of adolescents had thoughts of self-injury, and 9.7 percent reported acts of self-injury. This rose to 21.2 percent for thoughts and 11.2 percent for acts by age 16-17.” The study found there was a considerable gender difference. Almost half of the girls (42 percent) reported thinking about self-harm at 14-15 or 16-17, compared to 18 percent of boys. Rates of actual injury differed as well, with 26 percent of girls having inflicted self-injury at either 14-15 or 16-17, compared to 9 percent of boys. Girls were also more likely to repeatedly self injure. The report found seven percent of girls self-harmed at ages 14-15 and 16-17, compared to one percent of boys.

Alarmingly, 65 percent of all who repeatedly self-injured reported attempting suicide at age 16-17. Dr. Rioseco said another alarming takeaway from the report was the number of same-sex attracted young people who had reported self-harm. Those same-sex drawn at age 14-15 were more likely to report having self-injured at some point between ages 14-17 than those who were not (55 percent vs. 15 percent). “As a same-sex attracted person, you are potentially living with the stress of being a stigmatized minority,” Dr. Rioseco said.

“Despite progress over the last few years, same-sex attracted adolescents may still find they have to contend with harassment, discrimination, and bias from family, peers, and schools.” Dr. Rioseco said the report showed how important it was that parents and schools were equipped with the right skill set to support adolescents. “Ultimately, self-injury thoughts and behaviors need to be seen for what they are – a response to mounting stress and a way of relieving emotional pain,” Dr. Rioseco said. “There’s an urgent need for integrated care involving families, schools, and communities to enhance safety among these distressed young people in both the short and time term.”

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