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Teenage Self-Harm Associated With Problems In Later Life

Update Date: Oct 22, 2014 11:33 AM EDT

Teenagers who self-harm are at more risk of developing mental health and substance misuse problems in adults, according to a new study. 

Researchers examined data from 4,799 adolescents to examine the outcomes of self-harm for the first time and found that almost 19 percent of 16-year-olds had a history of self-harm and most had not sought help from health professionals. 

Examining their progress over the following five years showed that even those who self-harmed without suicidal intent had an increased risk of developing mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, compared with adolescents who had not self-harmed, the press release added. 

Researchers found that those teenagers were also more likely to self-harm in the future along with substance misuse problems, such as using illegal drugs, smoking and drinking too much. They further noted that those who self-harmed with suicidal intent were more at risk of poorer GCSE and A-level results. 

"We've shown for the first time that adolescents who self-harm are more vulnerable to a range of adverse conditions in early adulthood. While we cannot say that self-harm directly causes such problems, it's certainly a sign that all is not well and professionals need to be aware of such behavior and identify it early," said lead researcher Dr Becky Mars of Bristol University's School of Social and Community Medicine. 

"There is widespread lack of understanding amongst health and teaching professionals about those who self-harm without intending to take their lives. It should not be dismissed or viewed as trivial, as it could be a warning sign for suicidal behavior or other problems later in life. These new findings highlight the importance of self-harm and the need for better understanding among professionals likely to come across youngsters who self-harm."

The study was published in the British Medical Journal. 

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