Is Your Teen in Trouble?
Self-inflicted injuries in teenagers are on the rise. Learn more about suicide attempts and self-harm — and the difference between the two.

According to a recent study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the number of teens brought to the emergency room for self-inflicted injuries rose significantly between 2009 and 2012. Those more likely to self-injure included:

  • Girls
  • Older adolescents
  • Teenagers with one or more other type of comorbid conditions, either physical or mental

Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for those between the ages of 15 and 24.

What’s the Difference?

There are stark differences between the reasoning behind attempting suicide and cutting, piercing or bruising themselves.

“Someone who is suicidal truly wants to die because he or she doesn’t see any other way out,” says Ramona Osburn, F.A.C.H.E., senior vice president of Behavioral Health at Texas Health Resources. “Those who self-mutilate hurt themselves to express emotional pain and deal with life. Many teens who self-injure do so to exert control over their bodies at an age where it seems like you can’t control anything else in your life.”

While suicide attempts and self-mutilation have different motivations, self-mutilation can easily end in accidental suicide.

What to Look For

Teens who self-harm often have unexplained bruises, cuts or burns on their arms, legs, hips or stomach. Long sleeves and baggy clothes — even when it’s hot outside — may be worn to hide the scars. You may find razors, scissors or lighters among your teen’s things if he or she is using them to self-harm.

Those who are at risk for suicide often talk about wanting to die before they make an attempt. Mood swings, social isolation, and abuse of alcohol and drugs can also be signs of an impending suicide attempt. Many teens may give away treasured or expensive items (such as an iPad or a cell phone) if they are suicidal.

What to Do

If you believe someone is suicidal, take him or her to the emergency room or call 9-1-1. If your child is self-harming, your pediatrician or family physician is a good starting point for referrals to mental health services.

“Do not ignore any signs that your teenager is suicidal or self-harming,” Osburn said. “Confront what’s really going on and seek support from professionals who can help stop the behavior.”

For a complimentary Texas Health Behavioral Health assessment, call Texas Health Behavioral Health at 682-549-7961.

Physicians on the medical staff practice independently and are not employees or agents of the hospital or Texas Health Resources.

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