• June 8, 2023

Self-harm and adolescents: a growing phenomenon

P.rhyme the virus now the war. The light-heartedness characteristic of childhood and adolescence allows itself to be bent by catastrophic events today more than ever. In Italy i neuropsychic disorders of developmental age affect approx 2 million children and young people. The incidence is on the rise and the growing request for help reveals an increasingly marked one vulnerability in the stages of development. Young people have mistrust of the future, they live with anxiety and depression, often anger. It also disturbs the increase in cases of self-harmparticularly among the under 16. Self-injurious behaviors sometimes have suicidal intentions but in the majority of cases death is not the aim. They are present between 13 and 20 years, with some differences between the sexes. At 13 in 12% of males and 14% of females. Self-harm is however a submerged phenomenon: “We count the cases through studies, access to services or first aid” – he explains Antonella Costantinopast-president of Sinpia and director of the Child and Adolescent Neuropsychiatry Operating Unit at the Fondazione IRCCS Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico di Milano – “around the discomfort there is always a lot of shame and stigma“.

Great pains

The kids have developed over the years malaise and inner tormentsoften overlooked by adults: «The pandemic is not the cause“- he explains -” but it has certainly contributed to the worsening of the phenomenon “. A third of the boys experience constant discouragement and lack of will to live. 17.3% of young people between the ages of 14 and 19 thought about almost every day or more than half of the days death or self-violence to escape the grip of existential pain. Approximately 490,000 individuals are in danger: «The main mechanism that determines self-harm» – he explains – «is the excess of strong, negative emotions, stress, school pressure“. The pandemic also inhibited the sharing of problems between peers: «Many children have lived isolation even in very small places, especially in the metropolitan area “- underlines -“deprived of intimate and reserved spaces“. Often there is one depressive and anxious component that unites them, sometimes even the emulation of the experiences of others or searches on the net they favor avoidance behaviors of psychic suffering: “It is easier for emotions to take a wrong path” – he says – “physical pain relieves mental pain and the unexpressed emotions become wounds that are easier to deal with ».


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How do they hurt themselves?

Exist different forms of self-harm. To do cutting it means making cuts on the leg and arms using razor blades, knives, pieces of glass, cans. 10% of teenagers (200,000 teenagers), 90% of whom are females, resort to this punitive modality: “Males punch the wall more often” – he explains – “even breaking their bones”. Injustices suffered, love refusals, failures, reproaches propagate the emotional fire: «It is as if the cut or any other form of injury» – he affirms – «allowed the individual to empty the vessel of overwhelming and unmanageable feelings».
Self-harm means practicing violence on your own body over and over again. Cutting yourself isn’t the only form of violence, too burning yourself with cigarettes (burning), brand your skin with laser or hot iron (branding), scratching until blood comes out, getting bruises and bruises, pulling out your hair it helps to restore a precarious balance: “The goal is not to kill oneself” – he says – “but to find relief from anguish”.

Teenage children, tips to learn how to manage conflict and mistakes not to make

Teenage children, tips to learn how to manage conflict and mistakes not to make

How to help them?

The parents’ first reaction is often counterproductive. High anxiety and judgmental tones cause the discomfort to worsen: “Pointing the finger accusingly” – he says – “sharpens the difficulties.” These guys already feel a lot of pressure on their shoulders: “Adding more weight means” – he continues – and complicating all forms of communication “. The attitude welcoming and reassuring on the other hand, it has excellent results: «Supporting them and really listening to them» – he underlines – «means legitimize the pain they feel without judging“. Parents are also asked to implement some microstrategies: «Show attention without intrusiveness» – he explains – «put down your cell phone, look them in the eye. They are very sensitive and understand the real extent of our interest ».

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Which therapies?

Self-harm phenomena are often linked to anxious, depressive or pissing disorders. In these cases it is important to promptly treat the pathology and the symptom. In all other cases is useful it’s enough psychological or psychotherapeutic support: “It serves to develop greater awareness of the self-injurious event.” – he explains – Almost always there is a predisposing element but also a triggering trigger“. Anger and the desire to harm oneself explode for different reasons (for example, I felt attacked, they scolded me, I had a fight with someone, I feel rejected) and getting to know them helps: “We also learn to identify what mitigates»- he affirms -« and extinguishes the impulse to use violence on our body. There are other ways to express emotions ». Self-harm treated promptly and effectively can resolve itself without developmental consequences.


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