"Embedding" a severe form of self-harm among teens: study

Tue May 10, 2011 10:14pm EDT
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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - "Embedding" is a severe form of self-injury among teenagers that involves inserting objects into the skin or muscle and appears to be linked to thoughts of suicide and major psychiatric disorders, according to a U.S. study.

The behavior, while rare, is on the spectrum of self-harming behaviors as a much more severe form, added the study, which appeared in "Pediatrics." It noted that all the patients involved had bipolar disorder.

"There's clearly a more severe intent to hurt themselves than cutting," said William Shiels, a radiologist at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and one of the authors of the study.

"Inserting a 16 cm paperclip -- not just to do that on one arm, but both arms -- the intent that's required to cause that much self harm is significant."

Self-injury, which often takes the form of cutting or burning, is a fairly common behavior, with estimates ranging between 4 percent and 30 percent of youth who have hurt themselves in some way.

The pain involved in self-harm is thought to provide a sense of psychological relief, and is generally not considered part of a suicide attempt.

Shiels and his colleagues had noticed that several patients at his hospital required objects to be removed from their bodies -- objects that were intentionally put there.

To see if there were similar cases, they looked through 600 medical records of children who had material removed from their tissue, and found 21 instances of intentional embedding among 11 patients between the years 2005 and 2008.

All of the patients were teenagers between 14 and 18 years old, most of them girls, and had come to the hospital because they had admitted embedding an object or because they ended up with an infection at the site.   Continued...