Suicide, Self-Harm, Family, Parenting, Adolescents


Suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents. Suicidal behavior is also highly correlated with non-suicidal self-injury. Many studies show a correlation between the level of family functioning and these adolescent self-harming behaviors. In this review specifically, a compilation of synthesized studies shows that two factors of family functioning—cohesion and flexibility—have a high association with self-harming behavior in adolescents. Families with low levels of cohesion (disengaged) frequently cause feelings of loneliness and isolation, which may lead youth to self-harm. Inversely, adolescents of families with extremely high levels of cohesion (enmeshed) often feel unable to express their true feelings with over-controlling parents. In many cases, they express these emotions through self-harm. Low levels of flexibility (rigid) indicate families that are resistant to change. Adolescents in these families feel they lack freedom and might use self-harm to channel the frustration they feel. Families with levels of flexibility which are too high (chaotic) lack the structure necessary to provide emotional support to the adolescent, which again is associated with self-harming behavior. In cases of self-harming adolescents, therapy should be provided not only to the adolescents but also to the parents. Future research should emphasize how to better help parents improve their family functioning.

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