Even children as young as 7 intentionally harm themselves, through cutting, burning or other behaviors, a new study suggests.
In the study, 7.6 percent of third-graders reported ever engaging in non-suicidal self-injury.
The rate among sixth-graders was 4 percent, and the rate among ninth-graders was higher, at 12.7 percent.
Previous studies have found varying rates of this type of self-injury among young people, from about 7 to 8 percent in middle schoolers, to 23 percent in older youth. The new study is the first to examine the rates in children younger than 11, the researchers said.
By identifying children who are injuring themselves early, health-care providers might be able to prevent other associated behaviors, such as suicidal behavior and substance abuse, the researchers said.
Youth and self-injury
Andrea Barrocas, of the department of psychology at the University of Denver, and colleagues interviewed 665 children, ages 7 to 16, in third, sixth and ninth grade.
Fifty-three children, or 8 percent, reported ever having engaged in self-injurious behavior, such as cutting or their carving skin, hitting themselves, inserting sharp objects into their skin (such as nails) or burning themselves.
Rates were higher in girls than boys: 9 percent versus 6.7 percent. The highest rate was among ninth- grade girls, at 19 percent.
The most common self-injurious behavior in girls was carving or cutting the skin, and the most common behavior in boys was hitting themselves.
New psychiatric disorder
It is likely that non-suicidal self-injury will be a new mental health disorder recognized in the upcoming revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the latest version of the psychiatric handbook scheduled to be released in May 2013.
In the new study, 1.5 percent of children reported high levels of distress, as well as engaging in non-suicidal self-injury at least five times in the past year, meeting some of the requirements for the proposed diagnosis of non-suicidal self-injury as described in the upcoming DSM, the researchers said.
The study is published today (June 11) in the journal Pediatrics.
Pass it on: Even children as young as 7 have been found to engage in self-injurious behavior.