Adolescents who self-harm are three times more likely to commit violent crime, a new study by Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, found.
The study assessed “dual harmers”, young people who self-harm as well as inflict harm on others, to determine the relationship between harming oneself and committing violent crime.
What is a dual harmer?
“We know that some individuals who self-harm also inflict harm on others,” said Leah Richmond-Rakerd, lead author of the study. “What has not been clear is whether there are early-life characteristics or experiences that increase the risk of violent offending among individuals who self-harm. Identifying these risk factors could guide interventions that prevent and reduce interpersonal violence.”
The relationship between self-harm and violent crime
“By comparing twins who grew up in the same family, we were able to test whether self-harm and violent crime go together merely because they come from the same genetic or family risk factors”, added Terrie E. Moffitt of Duke University, founder of the E-Risk Study. “They did not. This means that young people who self-harm may see violence as a way of solving problems and begin to use it against others as well as themselves.”
The study’s recommendations are:
◦After incidents, clinicians should routinely evaluate a person’s risk of suicide. Clinicians should also assess a person’s risk of committing acts of violence against others.
◦Improving self-control among self harmers could help prevent violent crime. Self-harming adolescents should be provided with self-control training, which may reduce further harmful behaviours.
◦Self harm and violent crime have largely been studied separately within the fields of psychology, psychiatry and criminology. Interdisciplinary research should be pursued, since it could yield new insights.”
Richmond-Rakerd explained: “Our study suggests that dual-harming adolescents have experienced self-control difficulties and been victims of violence from a young age. A treatment-oriented rather than punishment-oriented approach is indicated to meet these individuals’ needs.”