Contagion of self-injury among adolescents in schools

Some people are concerned that discussing NSSI in a group setting (for example in a school), or viewing NSSI content in films, on TV or the internet might increase the risk of engaging in NSSI. However, while self-injury has been featured in many popular movies and music, and is increasingly more common on the Internet, the extent to which exposure to NSSI may increase the incidence of self-injury is unclear.

 

Many people who self-injure report getting the idea to self-injure from a friend or someone they know who has self-injured. Others report learning about NSSI through television, movies, and the Internet. Others are not sure where the initial idea came from. Half of all adolescents who self-injure report talking to peers and friends about the behaviour.

 

For some people seeing signs of NSSI can act as a trigger that increases the urge to self-injure. For this reason, experts advise that wounds resulting from NSSI not be openly displayed in public (e.g., at school). Healed scars are different: deciding not to hide scars can be empowering for young people and an important part of the recovery process. However this may increase risk of unhelpful comments, teasing and/or bullying so work with the student to ensure they are equipped for any consequences of not hiding scars.

Teachers and other school staff can minimise contagion of NSSI among adolescents in schools by discouraging students who self-injure from talking to other students about their NSSI, and encouraging adolescents who self-injury to conceal unhealed wounds while at school and in front of peers. Teachers and other school staff can also minimise contagion by avoiding classroom discussion of NSSI.

 

However, adolescents who self-injure often prefer to talk to peers and friends and typically hide NSSI from parents and teachers. When talking to adolescents who self-injure, or responding to the questions of their friends, teachers and other school staff can contextualise NSSI as one of many coping strategies adolescents might use when they are upset, anxious, or angry. However, teachers and other school staff should avoid normalising NSSI among adolescents as a strategy to alleviate distress. Rather, teachers and other school staff can emphasise that there are more suitable ways of coping, and that help from parents, teachers, and other school staff should always be sought if they or a friend has engaged in any of these behaviours.