M. Spencer Green/AP
A former self-cutter displays scars.

Boys Cut Themselves Too, Study Finds

December 16, 2008 01:58 PM
by Lindsey Chapman
A new survey conducted in the United Kingdom has found that self-mutilation is not unique to girls.

Prevalence of Self-Injurers

While assumptions have long held that “cutting” and other forms of self-harm are chiefly found among teenage girls, researchers are learning that it’s a problem for young boys, too.

According to the BBC, a mental health charity in the United Kingdom surveyed almost 1,000 people who committed self-harm. More than 10 percent of respondents were male. Researchers explained that it’s possible many boys hide their self-injury more than girls do.

Reports of self-harm are starting to attract more attention worldwide. But Aimee Liu of The Huffington Post writes, “Frustratingly few media accounts of self-injury ever address the fundamental reason why people hurt themselves when they’re distressed.” Few people who injure themselves are suicidal, Liu explains. Some are issuing “a cry for attention and help,” but a majority is looking to relieve stress or other uncomfortable emotions.

“Self-injury produces a quick chemical time-out,” Liu stated. When the body is hurt, it releases chemicals in the brain to protect a person from feeling too much pain. Liu quoted a study published in 2005 by UC Irvine researchers Curt A. Sandman and William P. Hetrick as saying, “These powerful agents, which possess analgesic and addictive properties, are more potent than morphine ... As a consequence, individuals exhibiting SIB [self-injurious behavior] become addicted to their own opiate system.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, The Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology has called self-injury a “remarkably prevalent and woefully understudied” condition. In fact, therapists are hoping that the problem will receive a name and a formal definition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders.

“In the last few years there has been an explosion of research, but it’s still in its infancy,” Janis Whitlock, a researcher on self-injury, stated. “There is so much more we need to know.”

Risk Factors for Self-Harm

According to Mayo Clinic, self-injury is a problem someone of any age, male or female, can face. Most often, the issue is specific to adolescents who are learning how to deal with an array of complex emotions or facing peer pressure. People who hurt themselves may have a history of alcohol or substance abuse, mental health issues, or physical or sexual abuse.

In 2006, an Internet survey of college students indicated that the self-injury was common among young adults as well. Of 2,875 students surveyed, 17 percent said they had intentionally hurt themselves before, 75 percent of those admitted to doing so more than once, and 36 percent said no one knew about it. According to WebMD, students who had committed self-harm were more likely to be female, bisexual or questioning their sexual orientation.

Related Topic: Self-embedding trends

Physicians are learning how to manage another self-injury practice among teens that was identified as a problem only recently. Self-embedding disorder is a condition in which a teen, generally a girl, intentionally inserts objects like paperclips, wood, glass or even stone, into her flesh. Researchers were reviewing a new method of removing objects accidentally embedded in a person’s body when they realized that youth in America were engaging in the practice.

Reference: Mental health resources


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