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When self injury turns suicidal for teens

U. MISSOURI (US) — A survey of more than 60,000 Minnesota teens showed than about 4,000 reported injuring themselves and nearly half of those attempted suicide.

Researchers who analyzed the survey have identified factors that will help parents, medical professionals, and educators recognize teens at risk for self injury and suicide.

“For many young people, suicide represents an escape from unbearable situations—problems that seem impossible to solve or negative emotions that feel overwhelming,” says Lindsay Taliaferro, an assistant professor of health sciences at the University of Missouri.

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“Adults can help these teens dissect their problems, help them develop healthful coping strategies, and facilitate access to mental health care so their problems don’t seem insurmountable.”

Taliaferro analyzed data from the 2007 Minnesota Student Survey to pinpoint factors associated with self injury.

“Of the teens who engaged in non-suicidal self injury, hopelessness was a prominent factor that differentiated those who attempted suicide from those who did not have a history of suicide attempts,” says Taliaferro, who reported findings in the journal Academic Pediatrics.

Parents, teachers, and medical professionals sometimes avoid talking to teens about self harm because they aren’t sure how to help, Taliaferro notes.

“Adults don’t need to solve all the teens’ problems, but they should let the teens know they have safe persons they can talk to,” Taliaferro adds. “Sometimes just talking about their feelings allows young people to articulate what they’re going through and to feel understood, which can provide comfort.”

Taliaferro recommends that parents strengthen connections with their teens and help foster connections between their children and other positive adult influences.

“One of the most important protective factors against teens engaging in self injury was parent connectedness, and, for females, connections with other prosocial adults also were associated with reduced likelihood of engaging in self injury,” Taliaferro says. “Parents are extremely valuable influences in their children’s lives.”

Although parents play influential roles in teens’ lives, Taliaferro says mental health professionals are the best resources for troubled teens.

Medical professionals, such as primary care physicians, can also serve crucial roles by identifying teens who self injure and referring them to community support systems and mental health specialists before their behaviors escalate, Taliaferro says.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, the University of Minnesota, and Penn State contribute to the study.

Source: University of Missouri

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