Non-Suicidal Self-Injury Is More Common In Teenage Girls Than Boys

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Non-Suicidal Self-Injury Is More Common In Teenage Girls Than Boys

one out of four teenage girls in the US performed non-suicidal self-injury/ Photo By Nebojsa Markovic via 123RF


Self-harm is often associated with suicide, but that is not always the case. There is a type of self-harm that does not involve wanting to cause one’s own death called non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI).

A study published in the American Journal of Public Health revealed that in the US, one out of four teenage girls performed non-suicidal self-injury, while in teenage boys, the rate was one out of ten. For every state in the U.S., the rate of self-harm without wanting to commit suicide differed. However, all the surveys show that teenage girls were more prone to non-suicidal self-injury than boys. It was discovered that the teenage American population who self-harmed was composed of 65% of females and 35% of males.

In the UK, researchers found that the number of teenage girls who engaged in self-harm increased by 68% over the course of three years. In relation to this, the research done by the Children’s Society showed that 110,000 14-year-olds around the UK have self-injured themselves. The majority of them were girls, which comprised 76,000 of those who self-harmed.

In addition, a 2016 study conducted by German scientists showed that in Europe, Germany had one of the highest rates of non-suicidal injury. They reported that among teens,  between 25% to 35% were engaged in non-suicidal self-injury.

What is Non-suicidal Self-Injury?

The study Non-Suicidal Self-Injury in Adolescents defines non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) as, “a direct, repetitive, socially unacceptable injury to body tissues without suicidal intent.” Examples of NSSI are burning some parts of the body’s surface, hitting oneself against objects, cutting and scratching.


According to Janis Whitlock, the director of the Cornell Research Program for Self-Injury Recovery, “NSSI is taken paradoxically to make you feel better… The psychological desire to feel better (that is at the root of the NSSI) is really healthy--but the behavior itself is unproductive.”

The American Nurse Today further explains that these are the main reasons that compelled a teenager to perform non-suicidal self-injury:

Mental disorders

The teenager may be suffering from some mental health conditions such as depression, Borderline Personality Disorder, and anxiety. They may also be affected by eating disorders or be involved with substance abuse.

Environmental factors

The teenager may have been subject to some form of abuse or neglect. Not having a good relationship with their parents could also be a factor. Victimization or bullying may also lead them to self-harm. Having a social circle that does non-suicidal self-injury may also increase their tendency to perform it.


low self-esteem could be a factro for a teenager to commit self-harm/ Photo By Olena Zaskochenko via 123RF


Personal Factors

These are factors that mostly pertain to the teen’s self-perception. If the teen has a poor self-image and low self-esteem, feels lonely, struggles with expressing their emotions, there are chances that they may resort to NSSI. Being emotionally unstable, impulsive and hostile may also increase their likelihood of self-harm.

A child who was interviewed by the Children’s Society confessed, “Feeling not pretty enough or good enough did contribute towards my self-harming.”


Psychiatry Advisor states that to be able to have the appropriate treatment approach for non-suicidal self-injury, the motivation behind it must first be identified.

Emotional stress

If emotional stress was the driving force behind the NSSI, it is suggested that the teenager try to learn about stress reduction behaviors. These include opening up to a friend or talking to a teacher, journaling, drawing and using relaxation techniques.

Feeling numb

Teens who self-harm to be able to feel something are advised to try other ways to remove the numbness. For example, they may try eating a hot pepper or having a cold shower. Therapists may also try to help assist the teen in being able to bear feelings of numbness for awhile.

To show how much they are hurting

For teens who engage in non-suicidal self-injury to tell others about their pain, they are told to find other ways to be able to communicate to others what their emotional needs.


teens who self-harm to be able to feel something are advised to try other ways to remove the numbness/ Photo By Ian Allenden via 123RF



To the teenage girls and boys who use self-harm as a form of self-punishment, they should learn about self-forgiveness and learn to accept their flaws.

Borderline Personality Disorder and other causes

Some psychosocial strategies which are used to treat Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) have also been used to help treat patients who self-harm. Some of these methods are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Emotional-Regulation Group Therapy (ERGT) and Motivational Interviewing (MI).

Eating Disorders

Dr. Muehlenkamp, an associate professor of psychology from the University of Wisconsin--Eu Claire, says that exercise may help teens who self-harm. He adds that this can help reduce their urges to self-injure. However, this strategy should be used carefully by those who have eating disorders.


Although it is not conclusive, some researches show that some medicines may also help patients stop themselves from engaging in non-suicidal self-injury. The suggested medicines include clozapine, topiramate, and naltrexone.

More Actions to Address NSSI in Teens

Clinicians and other mental health professionals should screen their patients regularly. This should be done to properly determine the cause of their NSSI and so that they can help them take the appropriate treatment approach. They should also be aware of how they react towards the self-injury of the patient. It is important that they deal with the patients compassionately in order for the patients to confide to them about the problem they have that caused them to self-harm.

Schools are also asked to take action regarding this issue. Dr. Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children’s Society suggests that the government should make it mandatory for schools to have counselors who are easily accessible to students, regularly keep track of the children’s well-being and to examine the mental health provision of students. He also suggests the Relationships and Sex Education curriculum should have topics that focus on teen issues such as appearance, sexuality and gender stereotypes.



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