(WMC-TV) – We are digging deeper into a disturbing trend among Mid-South teenagers – self-harm. It's when people cut, burn, bite, or otherwise hurt themselves intentionally. A recent study uncovered surprising data on African-American boys.
Dr. Kim Gratz with the University of Mississippi Medical Center surveyed almost two thousand students at six Mississippi middle and high schools in low-income areas. And what she uncovered surprised even the researchers.
"Based on what people once thought about this we might have thought that white youth and in particular white girls would be more likely to engage in this behavior," Dr. Gratz said. "We never would have expected that African-American boys were at such high risk."
Previous studies indicate self harm methods, such as cutting, burning and biting are more common among white adolescent girls, but Dr. Gratz says this study found what no one expected: across the board, it is most common among African American boys.
"They reported higher rates of most of the self harm behaviors than the other groups of students," said Dr. Gratz. "They had higher rates of severe scratching, self biting, punching but they also did in fact have the highest rates of cutting along with white girls. They had higher rates of most of the behaviors."
While African-American boys are most likely to harm themselves, the study finds a disturbing trend among all adolescents.
"39 percent of these students reported engaging in this behavior so as much as people often keep the behavior hidden or don't talk about it or fear disclosing it, it's happening," Dr. Gratz said.
751 students surveyed said they'd used some sort of method to self-harm.
And 53 percent of those students said they'd done it more than five times.
Dr. Gratz says the study should raise a red flag for parents.
"Self-harm generally starts in early adolescence and we don't think that's a coincidence. It's dealing with a time when emotions are getting more intense and life is getting more stressful," said Dr. Gratz.
Researchers at the University of Mississippi Medical Center say kids who hurt themselves are more impulsive and often have higher rates of substance abuse, risky sexual behavior and eating disorders.
They see cutting as a way to manage that distress.