New study documents a staggering 266% increase in the rate of self-harm behavior among girls aged 10-14.
Sometimes studies don't necessarily have an explanation for a phenomenon, but the mere presence of the phenomenon is enough to rouse significant concern. That's the case with this research letter appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It looks at the rate of self-harm among young people in the US and the results should be a wakeup call for the medical community.
Using data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, researchers from the CDC examined emergency room visits for 43,000 kids and young adults from ages 10-24 which included a report of self-inflicted injury.
I want to get right to the results.
From 2001 to 2015, the rate of self-injurious behavior went up by 76% among girls and young women in the US, compared to 15% among boys and men. This is all normalized to the total number of ED visits.
When you look at it by age groups, it's even more disturbing:
The rate of self-harm increased by 266% among girls aged 10-14, such that they approach the rate of self-harm seen in the 20-24 year olds. Both of these groups were outpaced by the 15-19 year old women, who bear the largest burden of self-harming behavior.
The rate in boys, regardless of age group, was lower and pretty stable:
How were the girls and women injuring themselves? The methods varied, but it seems like sharp-object injuries – cutting – is contributing to much of this growth.
Poisonings, which include ingestions of medications for the purpose of self-harm, are still the most common mechanism of injury though.
Now – are there some caveats here? Of course. These were cases seen in the ED – so maybe people are just going to the ED more when they used to hide these behaviors. That may be a part of this, but it strikes me as very unlikely that that's all of this.
No, to me this seems like a reflection of a fundamental angst afflicting younger women, and increasing over the past 15 years. I'm not sure what the source of that is – whether it is the adolescent female mirror to the rising rate of drug abuse in middle-aged men, whether it is the consequence of a cutthroat social media environment, or something else. But this has the feel of the beginning of an epidemic, and I encourage us all to get out in front of it before it gets worse.