Some adolescent girls and boys intentionally hurt themselves by cutting, burning, or hitting themselves, also known as nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI), but new data shows that children as young as 7 are also engaging in this dangerous activity.
In the study, “Rates of Nonsuicidal Self-Injury in Youth: Age, Sex, and Behavioral Methods in a Community Sample,” 665 youth ages 7-16 were interviewed about their engagement in NSSI over their lifetime.
The authors found that 53 children in third, sixth, and ninth grades had engaged in NSSI, a rate similar to early adolescents. Ninth-grade girls were three times more likely to self-injure than ninth-grade boys. Girls report cutting or carving skin, while boys were more likely to hit themselves. The study found 1.5 percent of the children interviewed experienced high levels of distress and reported engaging in NSSI at least five times over the past year, meeting partial criteria for a proposed DSM-5 psychiatric diagnosis of a NSSI disorder.
According to the study authors, children engaging in NSSI tend to feel depressed, angry and consumed with negative thoughts, and the injuries can have a significant effect on academics, relationships and social functioning.