Self-harm in kids, a new public health challenge

Deliberate injury to self is prominent in 10-14 age group

Self-harm in kids, a new public health challenge

Self-harm, with or without the intention of committing suicide, has emerged as one of the main causes of deaths among Indian adolescents, aged between 10 and 14 years.

The dangerous psychological tendency, developed early nowadays among the children stays with them as they grow and takes its toll on the youngsters. As a result, self-harm that includes suicidal attempts is the number one killer among the age groups 15-19 and 20-24 for both boys and girls, suggests a new public health research.

While the reasons may be a combination of personal and societal factors, mental health experts say it is high time the government steps in with policy intervention. “This needs to be addressed nationally on a mission mode,” Vikram Patel, professor at the centre for global mental health at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine told DH.

The Indian data is a part of a new global survey, commissioned by the medical journal Lancet, which would publish the results on Tuesday.

Nowhere in the list

When compared to the top 10 death-causing factors among the adolescent Indians in 1990, self-harm was nowhere in the list, which was dominated by diseases and accidents. It was among the senior age groups (15-19 years and 20-24 years), but not in the pole position.

In 2013, self-harm is not only the number one cause of death among the higher age category, but is also prominent in the 10-14 age group when children  are in high school. Self-harm also causes significant morbidity in the senior group.

“The appearance of self-harm in such a young age group as one of the leading causes of death, and the top rank for self-harm as the cause of death in those aged 15-24 years are the two key findings. This fact, which has been known for some time now, demands a mission-level response on par with the kinds of national missions on issues like polio,” Patel said.

Adolescents, aged 10–24 years, represent over a quarter of the population (1.8 billion), 89% of whom live in developing countries. Adolescence is a critical time of formative growth and brain development second only to infancy.

“Puberty triggers a cascading process of brain development and emotional change that continues through to the mid-20s. It brings a different and more intense engagement with the world beyond an adolescent’s immediate family,” said George Patton, professor at the University of Melbourne, who is one of the researchers associated with the study.

Other leading causes of deaths are intestinal and diarrhoeal diseases, road accidents, snake bites, drowning, respiratory tract infections, malaria and tuberculosis.

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