New research on self-harm among Wellington youth

Dr Jessica Garisch, who graduated with a PhD in Psychology from Victoria on Tuesday, studied deliberate self-harm among Wellington secondary school and university students.

She researched self-harm behaviours that are not typically lethal including cutting, burning, breaking bones, scratching, dripping acid on the skin, pulling hair or hitting.

“My research aimed to find out about the factors related to self-harm, who thought about it, who did it, the stereotypes associated with these people and the barriers to seeking help,” says Dr Garisch.

In her research, she did a survey of more than 2000 students aged 16 to 19, did a diary study and interviewed guidance counsellors around the region.

“Of the youth studied, a third to half of the students had tried self-harm in the past or had thought about it, and currently 12 percent were engaging in self-harming behaviour.”

Her research found that low self-esteem was a big factor for those who self-harm, as were concerns over sexuality or having friends or family members who self-harm.

“I also found a difference between self-harm in young males and females. For males, social factors or having friends and family who self-harm were the biggest factors. For females, it was emotional difficulties or low self-esteem.”

Dr Garisch says understanding there are lots of different reasons behind self-harm behaviour and increasing knowledge of the issue is vital.

“When I asked teachers about how they reacted to the behaviour, they didn’t know how to respond. Stereotypes of those who self-harm are also major barriers in stopping students talking about the problem.”

Next year, Dr Garisch plans to visit secondary schools in the Wellington region which are interested in learning more about the outcomes of her research