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    Not All Self Harm Is Mental Illness
    By News Staff | November 2nd 2012 09:19 AM | 5 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    Self-harm is rather common among young people but we tend to think of all self harm in modern times as elaborate cutting rituals and signs of mental illness.  

    Not so, many teenagers have at one time scratched, punctured or even cut themselves and hit their head forcefully against a wall - and it is behavior almost as common among boys as it is girls, despite the the steretotype. Labeling young people who self-harm as on a slippery slope to adult psychiatric states is not warranted.  Rather than over-diagnose, some knowledge is needed in order not to over-interpret the behavior of young people, says psychologist Jonas Bjärehed in his thesis at Lund University in Sweden.

    Bjärehed and his supervisor Lars Gunnar Lund carried out a survey (naturally) of 1,000 young people in southern Sweden which showed that four out of ten young people had at some time intentionally hurt themselves. They broke down the data and it appears that only a small minority of the young people self-harm on a regular basis and in a way that can be compared with self-harm in adults with mental health problems.


    Bjärehed calls self-harm the teenage disease du jour, like eating diseases in the 1970s and 1980s and ADD in the 1990s - even going so far back as the ‘hysterics’ who worried parents at the turn of the last century by fainting for various reasons.

    “It is not the first time young people worry those around them with new types of behaviour,” he said. “It is important that school and health professionals know how to deal with young people who self-harm. They need to react appropriately and not judge all young people alike. For many of these young people, the behaviour seems to be fairly mild and often of a temporary nature. It may be viewed as a matter of experimentation or problems that are not of a serious nature.”

    When Jonas Bjärehed began his research six years ago, knowledge about self-harm was limited among many professional groups that come into contact with young people. However, he says the situation is improving. Knowledge of true eating disorders in young people is well established among school and health service staff and he hopes that awareness of self-harm will become as widespread. Even if all young people who self-harm do not suffer from mental illness, the behavior can become a vicious circle: once a person has started, the risk is greater that they will continue and the self-harm causes their mental health to deteriorate.

    “Nowadays, we are grappling with the fact that many signs of stress and mental illness appear to be increasing in our society, especially among young people, without us really understanding why. The fact that many young people suffer mental health problems during a time in their lives when they are in the process of becoming adults and developing the skills they need to contribute to society has become a serious public health problem. An important challenge is to understand this trend and the signs of mental illness that we are seeing in young people, in order to be able to take the necessary measures to prevent it or provide help.”

    Comments

    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    “Nowadays, we are grappling with the fact that many signs of stress and mental illness appear to be increasing in our society, especially among young people, without us really understanding why.
    One area of potential research may be to study the effect on teenagers of watching the world news one night or even several nights in a row and see if this increases their inclinations to self harm. I personally think that teenagers find the often very depressing world news reports harder to handle and process than even many adults do. Maybe such a study might conclude that there also needs to be some positive news items reported by the world media, as these good news stories do exist but rarely make the headlines? Still I suppose that could backfire quite easily and look like world media manipulation if it wasn't handled well.
    An important challenge is to understand this trend and the signs of mental illness that we are seeing in young people, in order to be able to take the necessary measures to prevent it or provide help.”
    Yes it is :(
    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    rholley
    Absolutely, Helen.  I have experienced this in myself.

    Our media types tend to be Gutmenschen who claim the moral high ground.  Now I am not saying there is an exact parallel, but in this, they do bear some resemblance to the Pharisees of old:

    Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” (Luke 11:46)
     
     
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    John Hasenkam
    Maybe such a study might conclude that there also needs to be some positive news items reported by the world media, as these good news stories do exist but rarely make the headlines?
    Great point Helen. I can recall leaving school and it was all "sugar and spice." I saw friends leave high school early and walk into good paying jobs, there was always work around. You could even walk up to the factory gate and ask. Not these days, you have to jump through hoops. Students are being forced to undertake ever longer schooling and it is increasingly more difficult for the young to fly from the nest. 
    There was none or little of the doom and gloom news that assails us these days. From the perils of climate change to an aging popn everyone is being taught to be fearful. Studies indicate climbing rates of anxiety and depression, particularly in the under 30's. Our culture is encouraging people to become anxious, to fear the future. So silly, so much better to have people focus on what they can change in their lives but with so many stories from all over the world about terrible things happening about which most of us are powerless to change it is hardly surprising that so many are feeling increasingly helpless and waiting for fate to deal them a terrible blow. Helen Keller was spot on with: Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadows. 
    Happy Happy Joy Joy! 
    rholley
    I’ve just been reading about a 15-year old girl volunteering at a dementia hospital.  When I was her age (about half a century ago) one wasn’t aware of so many awful things.
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    When I was her age (about half a century ago) one wasn’t aware of so many awful things.
    Well, we were probably overly aware of the threat of nuclear wars back then, which a lot of children, teenagers and adults were very worried about, me included. Probably because my mother used to have a big cupboard under the stairs full of survival rations, along with copious instructions on what to do and how to last many months in such an event. There were also a lot of anti-war rallies taking place which were often in the news when I was a child, along with plenty of news reels showing starving children in Africa which I found very distressing.

    Also films like 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' back then were making us aware of the relatively new problems that people with mental illnesses were then facing from over medication, psychological labelling, mental straitjacketing and involuntary incarceration in mental institutions. This was before the current 'revolving door' mental health policy, in which 'mentally ill' people, who are often teenagers, who self-harm or attempt suicide, are now usually admitted to hospital psychiatric wards, psychologically assessed and labelled, given powerful sedatives, anti-depressant and/or anti-psychotic medication, then discharged the following day. Often only to repeat the same procedure the following day or week, until eventually many do succeed in taking their lives or end up breaking the law in order to self-medicate with illicit drugs and are then often involuntarily incarcerated in prisons :(
    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine