Self-harm: Dramatic increase in emergency room visits among Ontario teens since 2009

Posted on Tuesday, June 11, 2019

A young person holding a smartphone.

A new CHEO and University of Ottawa study, published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, shows a dramatic increase in the number of Ontario adolescents who visited an emergency department for self-harm between 2009 and 2017.

The research looked at all the emergency department visits for self-harm or mental health concerns by Ontario adolescents (ages 13 to 17) between 2003 and 2017. On average, there are about 170,000 visits each year. Authors found something surprising: from 2009 to 2017, the rates of adolescent self-harm visits more than doubled. Likewise, the rates of visits for mental health problems rose 78%. These increases were even greater among female adolescents.

“Our data provide no evidence specifically, but there were certain shifts that happened in 2009,” said Dr. William Gardner, Senior Scientist at the CHEO Research Institute, Professor of Epidemiology, uOttawa and Senior Research Chair, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and lead author of the paper. “The iPhone was introduced in 2007 and the use of smart phones has increased a lot since then. Engagement with social media could lead to increased rates of self-harm, at least for vulnerable adolescents. This could happen in several ways: by normalizing self-harm, by triggering it, by getting teens to emulate self-harming peers, or by exposing youths to cyber-bullying. However, social media may also benefit some troubled adolescents. It can by provide them with a way to escape social isolation or find encouragement to seek treatment.”

To read more about the research, titled Changing Rates of Self-Harm and Mental Disorders by Sex in Youths Presenting to Ontario Emergency Departments: Repeated Cross-Sectional Study, click here.


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