Teens who self harm themselves for more than three times- are more likely to commit a violent crime, suggests a new study. Such teens- dual harmers- are more likely to have a history of childhood maltreatment and lower self-control than those who only self-harm.
In US and UK, the rates of self-harm — deliberately harming oneself, often by cutting or burning — have increased substantially among adolescents. In the U.S., roughly one in four teenage girls try to harm themselves and one in 10 teenage boys. In the U.K., the yearly incidence of self-injury among teenage girls has risen by nearly 70 percent in three years.
Leah Richmond-Rakerd, lead author of the study said, “We know that some individuals who self-harm also inflict harm on others. What has not been clear is whether there are early-life characteristics or experiences that increase the risk of violent offending among individuals who self-harm. Identifying these risk factors could guide interventions that prevent and reduce interpersonal violence.”
During the study, scientists compared young people who engage in “dual-harm” behavior with those who only self-harm.
Participants were from the Environmental Risk (E-Risk) Longitudinal Twin Study, a nationally representative U.K. cohort of 2,232 twins born in 1994 and 1995 who have been followed across the first two decades of life. Self-harm in adolescence was assessed through interviews at age 18. Violent offenses were assessed using a computer questionnaire at age 18 and police records through age 22.
Terrie E. Moffitt of Duke University, founder of the E-Risk Study said, “By comparing twins who grew up in the same family, we were able to test whether self-harm and violent crime go together merely because they come from the same genetic or family risk factors. They did not. This means that young people who self-harm may see violence as a way of solving problems and begin to use it against others as well as themselves.”
Analysts additionally discovered that the individuals who committed violence against both themselves as well as other people were bound to have encountered victimization in adolescence. They additionally had higher rates of psychotic symptoms and substance reliance.
Additional recommendations include:
- After incidents of self-harm, clinicians should routinely evaluate a person’s risk of suicide. Clinicians should also assess a person’s risk of committing acts of violence against others.
- Improving self-control among self-harmers could help prevent violent crime. Self-harming adolescents should be provided with self-control training, which may reduce further harmful behaviors.
- Self-harm and violent crime have largely been studied separately within the fields of psychology, psychiatry, and criminology. Interdisciplinary research should be pursued since it could yield new insights.
Richmond-Rakerd said, “Our study suggests that dual-harming adolescents have experienced self-control difficulties and been victims of violence from a young age. A treatment-oriented rather than punishment-oriented approach is indicated to meet these individuals’ needs.”
The study is published in The American Journal of Psychiatry.