According to Karen Contario and Wendy Lader, PhD., self -harm is the, “deliberate mutilation of the body or a body part, not with the intent to commit suicide but as a way of managing emotions that seem too painful for words to express.” According to a recent study, young black women are significantly more likely to engage in self-harm than young women from other ethnic backgrounds.
Dr. Jayne Cooper, at the University of Manchester’s Centre for Suicide Prevention, and her colleagues examined the rates of self-harm in individuals at emergency departments at hospitals in three different cities. The study collected data on nearly 15,000 individuals at emergency departments in Manchester, Derby, and Oxford.
The researchers discovered that young black women were significantly more likely to engage in self-harm than women of other racial backgrounds in all three cities. Specifically, in Manchester, the rate of self-injury among young white women was found to be 6.6 per 1,000 compared to 10.3 per 1,000 in black women. Interestingly, the researchers also discovered that the rate of self-harm in young black men did not differ from that of their white counterparts. Finally, the researchers found the rates of self-injury were lower in older black men than the rates of self-injury in their white counterparts.
The researchers are unsure of why the rates of self-harm were significantly higher in young black women. However, Cooper suggests that the higher rates may be due to the fact that these women tend to suffer more social stress, such as housing issues and unemployment. Cooper also asserts that black women were less likely to receive appropriate care or a specialist assessment with further episodes of self-injury. Furthermore, Cooper states that black women are often thought to be, “low risk,” for future attempts at self-injury. Many of the young black women in this study did not have the factors that would identify them as being “high risk” for future attempts at self-injury, which include a previous history of self-harming behavior, living by oneself, and using a substance in a previous self-harm episode.
Given the results of this study, Cooper asserted, “The challenge is to make services more culturally sensitive, and assure that everyone receives assessment and appropriate management following self-harm.”
Self-injury typically begins in adolescence, although earlier or later onset can also occur. According to Mental Health America, some warning signs that someone you love may be self-harming include wearing long sleeves or pants during summertime, relationship problems, frequent injuries that cannot be explained, like burns, cuts, or bruises, low self-esteem and difficulty dealing with feelings. If you think a loved one may be engaging in self-harming behaviors, please encourage him or her to seek professional help from a mental health professional.
If you would like to learn more about this study, please visit the September issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry, where this study was published. You may learn more about self-injury by visiting the website Secret Shame Self-Injury Information and Support.
Psych Central: Greater Risk for Self-Harm in Young Black Women:
Contario, K., Lader, W. (1998). Bodily Harm: The Breakthrough Healing Program for Self-Injurers. Hyperion: New York.
Mental Health America: Fact Sheet: Self-Injury: Warning Signs:
Secret Shame: Self-Injury Information and Support: