Young girls increasingly harming themselves, ending up in ER

The 15-year-long study looked at girls aged 10-24 who went to the emergency room for attempted suicides, drug overdoses, cutting and other types of self-injury.  

girl sits in a depression on the floor near the wall monochrome


A 15-year-long study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the number of adolescent girls who visit the emergency room after a self-inflicted injury has gone up significantly.

The study looked at girls and boys between the ages of 10 and 24 who went to the emergency room for attempted suicides, drug overdoses, cutting and other types of self injury.

The most surprising increases happened after 2009, with rates of girls aged 10 to 14 increased 18.8 percent per year.

Guy Diamond is the director of family intervention science at Drexel University. He says one contributing factor could be that self-harm has been glamorized in movies and TV, like the popular Netflix series “13 Reasons Why.”

“It’s become a more acceptable coping strategy,” he said.

So why are girls’ rates going up, while boys’ rates are relatively stable?

Sociology professor Carolina Hausmann-Stabile from Bryn Mawr College says some scientists think that with a drastic increase of estrogen around puberty, there’s increased depression. And she says girls internalize violence in their environment, whereas boys often get a pass from society to show anger externally.

“Many girls direct aggression that they have learned to use in their environments and resolve conflicts through their bodies. So they cut themselves or they attempt suicide,” she said.

Both experts think it’s possible that the numbers could mean that more parents are admitting that their kids harmed themselves — and that more providers are reporting self-harm than before. That may help explain the increase.

Diamond says that decades ago, experts “didn’t believe that a child, or an adolescent was capable of experiencing depression.” With more awareness comes better screening, but it’s still not enough, he says.

Hausmann-Stabile and Diamond agree that as a society, we need more prevention efforts. Diamond says, in particular, we need to train teachers and primary care doctors to screen for the signs of suicide and self harm.

“Most treatment for suicidal patients or clients has been designed for adults,” said Hausmann-Stabile. “We are not prepared to serve these kids.”

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