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Stop Self-Harm in Teens & Children

Suicides, suicide attempts, and incidents of self-harm in children were soaring before the COVID-19 pandemic. Pandemic-related isolation and changes in family dynamics resulting from long-term quarantine and illness have exacerbated the problem.

While a person who engages in self-harm doesn’t always intend to commit suicide, they are at a higher risk of suicide if they do not get the help they need. Self-harm in children usually starts during the adolescent and teen years. While some self-harm for a short period and then stop, others have trouble stopping.

Why do so many children self-harm? Can we stop self-harm in teens and children?

Self-Harm Statistics

Those are all questions that are in dire need of answers for the sake of children everywhere. The self-harm statistics are alarming:

From February 21-March 20, 2021, the number of emergency room visits for suspected self-harm and suicide attempts among girls was 50.6% higher than during the same time in 2019. Among boys, visits increased by 3.7%.

In 2020, the rate of emergency room visits related to self-harm or poor mental health among children aged 12-17 years increased 31% from the year before.
Among children aged 12-17 years, the weekly number of ER visits for suspected suicide and self-harm attempts was 22.3% higher during the summer of 2020 than during the summer of 2019.

For adolescents ages 12-17, the number of ER visits during the winter of 2020 for self-harm or suicide attempts was 39.1% higher than in the winter of 2019.

As quarantines and social isolation caused millions of milestone events like school dances, graduations, birthday parties, musical events, and sporting events to be canceled, students missed critical opportunities for social connection with their peers.

The devastating toll on children’s mental health from the lack of social connection contributes to higher self-harm incidents. The question is, how to stop it? To understand how to stop self-harm, we need to understand what causes it and implement proactive programs, like Rachel’s Challenge that get to the heart of the problem.

Why Do People Self-Harm?

Self-harming behaviors, such as cutting, are a way of coping with strong feelings and emotional distress. Some are aware that they’re engaging in self-harm as a response to a specific experience that happened in the past or is currently happening. Others may not be able to identify a reason for their self-harming behavior. Self-harming behaviors are often a result of a combination of several factors.

Some of the most common reasons for self-harm are:

A health problem or illness
Low self-esteem
Increased stress
Depression, anger, anxiety, or numbness
The loss of a friend or loved one
Bullying
Pressures at work or school
Emotional, sexual, or physical abuse

Some people self-harm because they feel like they deserve to be punished or want to gain a sense of control. Others may do it to distract from chaotic events or feelings; it gives them a sense of relief.

Still, others may do it to gain attention from someone they are desperate to connect with. Some people self-harm to feel something when they feel numb or empty.

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Types of Self-Harm

There are many different ways people can inflict self-harm. According to MentalHealth.gov, some common examples include:

Burning themselves with matches, candles, lighters, or cigarettes
Pulling out their hair
Poking objects through body openings
Bruising themselves or breaking bones
Cutting themselves
Misusing drugs or alcohol
Deliberately starving themselves or exercising excessively
Punching themselves or punching something else to injure themselves

Some groups of teens and children are at greater risk for self-harm than others.

Although anyone can be at risk, self-harm in teenagers is more common in those who were abused as children, have mental disorders, suffer from substance use, have low self-esteem, are bullied, or have friends who self-harm.

How to Stop Self-Harm

Although the statistics are overwhelming, it’s important to remember that self-harm in children and teens is preventable. The key to prevention is connectedness, which can be described as the degree to which a group or person is socially close to or shares resources with other groups or individuals. These resources include possessions, ideas, thoughts, and experiences.

Nurturing School Connectedness

Since school is a significant part of the lives of children, a sense of school connectedness can help prevent self-harm.

School connectedness is when students believe that adults and their peers at school care not just about their learning but also about them as individuals.

When students feel connected to their peers and adults in school, the prevalence of youth suicide and self-harm goes down.

Therefore, the key to stopping self-harm is not just to improve self-harm awareness but also to foster school connectedness.

In order to improve connectedness in school, Rachel’s Challenge offers direct intervention that saves the lives of students.

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Cultivating Connectedness and Self-Harm Awareness in the Classroom

Support from all staff members is essential; adults must dedicate their time, attention, and emotional support to students to get to know students on a more personal level.

Rachel’s Challenge offers a set of daily exercises called 180 Connections through our RC Digital program.

180 Connections helps adults and students connect every day in school.

Bullying is a major problem in our schools today, and it’s one of the leading causes of low self-esteem, self-harm, and suicide attempts.

Bullying has serious effects on the well-being and mental health of our youth, and it must be properly addressed.

Take Action with Rachel’s Challenge

For more than 20 years, Rachel’s Challenge has traveled the country, visiting schools and giving teachers, students, school staff, and parents hope.

By teaching everyone in schools how to cultivate a supportive, safe, connected learning environment, our teams have reached over 30 million students.

Rachel’s Challenge saves 150 lives annually, has averted eight school shootings, and has impacted over 20,000 school learning environments.

Take action and reach out to us to learn more about Rachel’s Challenge and how we can deliver life-changing programs to your school.

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Accept the challenge


Join the nearly 30,000,000 people around the world who have accepted Rachel’s Challenge to start a chain reaction of kindness.