The following paper closely examines the diverse reasons behind teenage suicide and self-harm. In particular, numerous peer-reviewed articles are examined in order to provide an accurate analysis of the issue. Each of them contributes research findings that show the key reasons behind escalating suicide and self-harm levels among adolescents. Below, the underlying causes and effects of these social phenomena are discussed in greater detail.
To begin with, Hawton et al. (2012) explain in their scholarly article that suicide is not as common as non-fatal self-injury in the adolescent group. In particular, the authors split self-harm into two groups: non-suicidal and attempted suicide. Non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) “is the intentional destruction of one’s own body tissue (e.g., cutting, burning) without conscious suicidal intention” (Arbuthnott & Lewis, 2015, p. 1). What is more, the authors state that NSSI is considered a mental health condition. Furthermore, the effects of NSSI on the teenager and her parents are analyzed in the article. Studies show that parents suffer numerous psychological consequences when their teenage child self-harms. When working with youth who self-injure, it is also advised that parents undergo some form of psychotherapeutic treatment. This allows them to better understand and support their teenager in the healing process (Arbuthnott & Lewis, 2015). In another research, Hawton et al. (2012) emphasize that the repetition of self-harm is usually high among young adults. In particular, about half of the teenagers who self-harmed once will do it again. While not all cases of self-injury are suicidal, it is often difficult to distinguish when they are. However, some research does exist on the subject, showing that about 40% of teenagers have suicidal thoughts “while inflicting the injury” (Kerr et al., 2010, p. 241).
When it comes to the reasons behind self-harm attempts, there is a “complex interplay between genetic, biological, psychiatric, psychological, social, and cultural factors” (Hawton et al., 2012, p. 2374). Whitlock (2010) stresses in her article that even a single self-harm episode may be closely correlated with a history of childhood abuse and “comorbid conditions such as suicidality and psychiatric distress” (p. 1). Data shows that 79.8% of adolescents with a history of NSSI report stopping NSSI within a five-year period, while 40% admitted to stopping within a year (Whitlock, 2010). Dramatically, NSSI is globally “present and prevalent” (p. 1). When talking about suicide, it is “the second leading cause of death among those aged 15-29 years” in the United States (Grandclerc et al., 2016, p. 2). Furthermore, Grandclerc et al. (2016) stress that approximately 4 to 8 percent of American teenagers (who are 15 to 19 years old) show suicidal tendencies.
Importantly, NSSI is often called a “contagious” condition (Whitlock, 2010). More specifically, the presence of self-injury examples in media (TV, Internet, etc.) severely influences teenage behavior (Whitlock, 2010). It is needless to say that the adolescent group is subject to numerous hormonal and psychological changes which are often difficult to handle. Thus, due to increased vulnerability, a teenager who finds out about NSSI may be tempted to try it in order to release tension or anger. It is interesting that alternative teenage groups (such as emo, goth, etc.) have a greater tendency toward self-harm (Young et al., 2014). If this behavior is practiced by others in a group, the teenager may feel inclined to attempt it as well. At the same time, research shows that “thwarted belongingness” is one of the greatest predictors of self-harm among adolescents (Young et al., 2014). Teenagers who feel alienated, socially disconnected, and isolated have a much greater tendency toward self-injury (Young et al., 2014). Finally, self-harm often does not come alone; it is many times accompanied by mental health issues such as borderline personality disorder (BPD), major depressive disorder, as well as alcohol dependency and eating disorders (Kerr et al., 2010).
Summing up all of the above, it is clear that suicide and NSSI presents a humongous issue for American society today. Numerous deaths are caused by suicides and these rates have not stopped growing. As described above, there are numerous factors that push young adults to attempt self-injury and suicide. It is important to note that some teens manage to cope with the distress of the teenage years, others may not possess the necessary psychological resources. This may be due to a number of reasons, from a long-time history of childhood abuse, to the pressure exerted by the media and one’s peers. This research paper closely examines these and other causes, in order to better understand the roots of NSSI and suicide among American teenagers.
- Arbuthnott, A. E., & Lewis, S. P. (2015). Parents of youth who self-injure: a review of literature and implications for mental health professionals. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, 9(35), 1-20. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4586015/
- Grandclerc, S., De Labrouhe, D., Spodenkiewicz, M., Lachal, J., & Moro, M-R. (2016). Relations between nonsuicidal self-injury and suicidal behavior in adolescence: A systematic review. Plos One, 11(4), 1-15. Retrieved from http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article/file?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0153760&type=printable
- Hawton, K., Saunders, K., & O’Connor, R. C. (2012). Self-harm and suicide in adolescents. The Lancet, 379, 2373-2382. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22726518
- Young, R., Sproeber, N., Groschwitz, R. C., Preiss, M., & Plener, P. L. (2014). Why alternative teenagers self-harm: Exploring the link between non-suicidal self-injury, attempted suicide and adolescent identity. BMC Psychiatry, 14(137), 1-14. Retrieved from https://bmcpsychiatry.biomedcentral.com