A new study by the US Centers for Disease Control has found that the frequency of attempted suicides, drug overdoses, cutting and forms of self injury have risen amongst American girls in recent years.
The sharpest increase occurred among girls aged 10 to 14. The rate of self injury nearly tripled from 2009 to 2015. It rose from about 110 visits to the emergency room per 100,000 girls to almost 318 visits per 100,000 girls.
Older teenage girls had the highest rate of self harm, though the numbers haven’t increased as dramatically as self harm in younger teens.
Drug overdoses and other self-poisonings were the most common method among girls and boys, followed by cutting with sharp objects.
Why the trend?
The trend, which shows increasing self harm, follows reports of rising teen depression and suicide. Experts say cyberbullying, substance abuse and economic stress from the recent recession might be contributing factors to this disturbing trend
Psychologist Sonali Gupta tells SheThePeople.TV that teenage girls are more prone to body-image issues which leads to anxiety and depression. And these issues start as early as 10 or 11 years old. The importance of physical appearances and the concept of looking beautiful emerges during adolescence, she says.
“Girls are more impacted by social media, Instagram and the like than boys are,” she says. She also says that teenage girls are more likely to engage in self harm and have eating disorders than boys are. “Even bullying in these years focuses on physical appearance.”
At an event that SheThePeople.TV was a part of, psychiatrist Dr Pervin Dadachanji said in the last ten years, she has seen an increase in eating disorders amongst girls who are as young as ten. "I have seen many more adolescents harming themselves," she says.
"Social media has created an imaginary audience for girls, who freak out at the smallest flaw,"- Dr Pervin Dadachanji
On why boys may not be harming themselves in the same way or falling prey to eating disorders, Dadachanji said that typically beauty is associated with girls. Thoughts like in 'order to get a boyfriend I need to be beautiful' are more common in girls’ minds.
Parents have a huge role to play in defining a child’s self-worth, say both Dadachanji and Gupta. Dadachanji talks about how she has seen cases where parents throw children’s parties at salons so that they can get manicures and pedicures. "This is ridiculous" she says, "as from a young age, children are taught that self-worth is related to how one looks".
Tripti Wadhwa, a dietician, told SheThePeople.TV about the number of teenage clients that come to her. She says, “It’s shocking to see the increase in the number of young girls that are coming to me for advice on their diet. They are growing children, who required the right fats and carbs for growth. And this is what they are running from. I cannot give them the same diet plan I give to an adult. What is scarier is that parents are not stopping them.”
What should be done?
It starts with the child's parents.
"Parents must stress that a person is not defined by his or her physical appearance," says Gupta. "They should also not be afraid to seek out professional help if need be."
The study’s authors say that the findings underscore the need for implementation of evidence-based, comprehensive suicide and self harm prevention strategies within health systems and communities.
This means promoting young people to become connected with one another, teaching problem solving and coping strategies and identifying at risk communities.