Despite self-harm being one of the strongest predictors of completed suicide, 90 per cent of young people who self-harm as adolescents cease harming themselves once they reach young adulthood.
However, those who start self-harming as young adults will have often experienced mental health problems as adolescents, such as anxiety or depression, which should be treated.
The study by Dr Paul Moran at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, and Professor George C Patton from Centre for Adolescent Health at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, Melbourne, Australia was published today in The Lancet and found that around 1 in 12 young people self-harm as adolescents, with the balance skewed towards girls.
Self-harm is a global health problem and is especially common among 15–24 year old women, a group in whom rates of serious self-harm seem to be rising.
In this study, the authors followed a sample of young people from Victoria, Australia from adolescence (14-15 years old) to young adulthood (28-29 years old) between 1992 and 2008. The study is the first population-based study to chart in detail the course of self-harm from adolescence to young adulthood.
The study found that during adolescence, self-harm was associated with symptoms of depression and anxiety, antisocial behaviour, high-risk alcohol use, cannabis use and cigarette smoking. Additionally, those who experienced depression or anxiety during adolescence were around six times more likely to self-harm in young adulthood than adolescents without depression/anxiety.