Self-harm: a leading cause of death among early 20’s

Self-harm: a leading cause of death among early 20’s

According to Washington University, data suggests that self-harm was one of the leading causes of death among those aged 20-24 in 2013. It’s not clear what they define as ‘self-harm’ exactly, but either way it gives us a staggering insight to the scale of the issue – and finally acknowledges that adults are suffering as much a young people.

Self-harm has long been associated with young people, most notably girls, but in recent years we’ve started to see a shift away from this stereotype, enabling young boys to ask for help and creating dialogue and awareness around the issue. The very fact that asking for help is getting easier, may account for some of the increase in known cases that have been widely reported, but the real number of those affected will always remain much higher than we fear.

But while this culture shift may be reaching more young people, adults who self-harm continue to feel very marginalised and forgotten. Every intervention seems to be aimed at young people, and while this should be applauded and made more of a priority, we need to be catering for adults as well. If you think it’s tough asking for help when you’re 15, you want to try asking when you’re 35 and have small children, a spouse, mortgage and dog in tow. Literally impossible for many, and the encouragement to come forward just isn’t there – and many wouldn’t necessarily know where to turn.

As tragic as it is, it’s no surprise that those in their early 20’s are considered to be most vulnerable, and there’s every possibility this is only going to get worse – the support structures once enjoyed at school have gone, and there are pressures to find employment or survive both the academic and financial burdens of university. During this time, many transition from family homes to independent living, and have the new responsibilities of running a home. Parenthood may be a factor for some, and when babies come along many parents make their own needs and struggles much less of a priority, meaning the issues bubble away untreated.

With the rising numbers of young people admitting to self-harming behaviours, and the lack of support services available, we are only likely to see an increase in young adults continuing to self-harm into their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and beyond. More needs to be done at a preventative level, but we also need to create a society that makes asking for help in adulthood much easier than it currently is – and, of course, have the services available to help those who do.

We have to go on believing that freedom from self-harm is possible at any age, because without that hope more lives will be lost or significantly damaged. I don’t want the next generation of adults to see that as their future, I want them to see that we did something about it.


@FreedomFromHarm | @RachelWelch

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  1. Michelle

    Thank you for highlighting this.

    • Rachel Welch

      No problem; it’s important stuff. Rachel


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