| psychology

Adolescent Pain During Self-Injury—What’s Going On?

Study Suggests Line of Clinical Inquiry into Patients’ Behavior and Motivations

According to Centers for Disease Control statistics, the incidence of nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI) among adolescents is relatively high, with 10% of boys and 25% of girls conducting such behavior each year. A new study led by researchers at Rutgers University sought to examine what the authors term the “enigmatic” level of understanding of how subjects experience pain during such episodes. Author Edward Selby, associate professor of psychology at the Rutgers Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research, commented, “The experience of pain during nonsuicidal self-injury remains a mystery and can be difficult for clinicians and families to understand because it challenges our assumption that people want to avoid or minimize pain.” The study found that the pain experience during NSSI is variable, dynamic, and differs among individuals, and that in some instances the pain experience may serve to distract the participant from other forms of emotional distress.

In the study, 47 subjects aged 15 to 21 with a history of NSSI, and 70% female were given a smartphone app enabling researchers to question them 5 times daily for 2 weeks on their latest incident of NSSI. Subjects were also queried on levels of physical pain and on the presence of ≥1 of 21 emotional states including feelings of anxiety, sadness, loneliness, anger. Dr. Selby noted that the “…findings suggest that the individuals who had high emotional distress and instability sought to use physical pain from self-injury more frequently to relieve their emotional distress. It also shows that an absence of pain sensation during self-injury may arise as the behavior worsens and can lead these individuals to be less motivated to seek help.” The findings appear in the March 2019 edition of the journal Clinical Psychological Science.

Read about the study.

The journal abstract may be read here.

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