Think cutting's a teen thing? A new Pediatrics study finds alarming self-harm incidence even in grade school.
A study of 665 7–to-16-year-olds in the third, sixth, and ninth grades found 8% of them had engaged in Nonsuicidal Self-Injury (NSSI) at least once. The rate among the third-graders was 7.6%.
"It has commonly been thought that NSSI is a behavior characteristic of adolescence and young adulthood," say the authors. "Although adolescents (ie, ninth-graders) in this study reported greater lifetime rates of NSSI than younger children (ie, third- and sixth-graders), results show that NSSI is a behavior that children engage in as well."
One in three of the self-injurers said they only did it once; the others "reported multiple instances of NSSI," says the study.
Girls were a bit ahead of boys in general, especially in ninth grade, where they reported self-harm three times as often as boys. "Cutting and carving skin" was the girls' preferred method of self-harming girls, while boys tended toward "hitting themselves."
To determine intent and psychological state, researchers used the Injurious Thoughts and Behaviors Interview (SITBI), though they acknowledged that the metric is not traditionally used on pre-adolescents.
The authors suggests that, given their findings, practitioners might want to reexamine their tendency to minimize what might be NSSI behavior -- as seen in a January study that found ER docs unlikely to give kids with suspicious injuries psych assessments. "Psychiatric problems with childhood and adolescence ontogeny are among the most burdensome globally and can lead to chronic obesity and substance use and abuse," they write. "Therefore, early identification of NSSI engagement could help prevent these negative physical and mental health outcomes."