More awareness is needed about undiagnosed depression and
self-injury problems among adolescent females at New Zealand
That is the view of University of Otago psychology researcher
Eve Hermansson-Webb, whose doctoral research has highlighted
a ''pervasive problem within New Zealand secondary schools''
of non-suicidal self-injury among adolescent females.
Dr Hermansson-Webb graduated from Otago University last
weekend with a psychology PhD focusing on aspects of
non-suicidal self-injury, and also gained a postgraduate
diploma in clinical psychology.
She undertook questionnaire-linked research involving 160
14-year-old female school pupils at two secondary schools,
one in the North Island and the other in the South Island.
And 118 school guidance counsellors throughout the country
also participated in another survey.
The self-injuries she was investigating were generally of a
superficial nature or caused ''mild to moderate tissue
She found that of the 160 pupils, 12.5% (20) had injured
themselves, often by cutting or burning, often on arms, legs
or stomach. And 20% of the overall group were experiencing
Guidance counsellors were well aware of issues involving
adolescent self-injury of this kind. All had encountered it
and they were doing a ''great job'' of supporting affected
pupils, she said.
But the counsellors had estimated its prevalence at between
5% and 10%, which was significantly below the 12.5% level
found in her survey.
Some cases could be slipping ''through the cracks'' and not
Wider awareness of the problems, among parents and teachers,
would also be helpful in ''picking up'' other cases, to
ensure that any other affected pupils were also getting
She emphasised there was no need for ''alarm'' about the
situation, but self-injury was an indication of underlying
distress and, in some cases, was a maladaptive ''coping
response to stressful situations''. She advised pupils who
had injured themselves to talk to a trusted adult, including
a parent, teacher or school guidance counsellor. A general
practitioner could also provide further advice.
Dr Hermansson-Webb's PhD topic was '' `With Friends Like
These ...': The Social Contagion of Non Suicidal Self-Injury
Among Adolescent Females''.
Having a group of close friends was generally protective
against the possibility of self-injury, but there was also
evidence of a ''clustering'' of self-injury and depression
among some friends, she said.
Dr Marc Wilson, at the Victoria University of Wellington
psychology department, is leading a major study, funded by
the Health Research Council, into such injuries.
Dr Wilson has said that, in most cases, such self-injury was
not a suicide attempt or a precursor to suicide.
The injuries were ''a way of dealing with overwhelming
negative thoughts and emotions'', he said.
Where to get help
Depression Helpline (8am-midnight): 0800-111-757
Samaritans: 0800-211-211/(04) 473-9739
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508-828-865
Youthline: 0800-376-633, free text 234 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
What's Up (for 5-18 year olds; 1pm-11pm): 0800-942-8787
Kidsline (for children 14 and under; 4pm-6pm weekdays):
If it is an emergency, call 111