Mental health experts: Teen self-harm stats a paradox

NZ Herald 29 September 2014
A paradox is puzzling youth mental health experts: binge-drinking, violence and suicide are all declining, but our teenagers are enduring an escalating epidemic of self-harm.

Sir John Kirwan’s new book Stand By Me: Helping Your Teen Through Tough Times spells out the pressures facing today’s teenagers: more aggressive advertising, more available alcohol, widespread bullying, child poverty, celebrity culture, family violence, broken homes, less time with parents who are both now working, growing uncertainty over sexual identity and increasing ethnic diversity.

Actually, the data show that many of these things peaked about 20 years ago when unemployment also topped out (at 11 per cent in 1991).

Youth suicides increased from about five a year for every 100,000 people aged 15-24 in the 1950s to 29 in 1995, and fell back to 16 in the year to June this year, the second-lowest since 1986 despite a small upward blip in the recent recession.

Auckland University’s Youth 2000 surveys of about 8500 NZ high school students have found that teen binge-drinking has almost halved since 2001, drink-driving has dropped by a third, regular marijuana use has halved, cigarettes have almost disappeared, violence and fighting have dropped by a third, and students staying away from school because of bullying have dwindled from 9.5 per cent in 2001 to 5.3 per cent in 2012.