The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Spring
2011

The Deliberate Self Harm of Parental Divorce


Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson


Asked about how parental divorce and remarriage affect young people, the progressive defenders of America’s merry-go-round culture of permissive divorce and remarriage assure the public that adolescents are resilient, quickly able to brush off the effects of their parents’ partings and re-couplings. Such anodyne assurances look less than convincing when tested against research like that coming from health scholars at the University of Western Australia and Curtin University of Technology in Perth. Assessing data on adolescents hospitalized for Deliberate Self-Harm (DSH), these Australian researchers find troubling indications that teens in stepfamilies often find it so hard to make sense of their lives that they inflict grievous injuries on themselves.

Poring over health-survey data collected between 1993 and 2007 from 2,736 children in Western Australia between the ages of 4 and 16, the researchers establish a clear linkage between family background and hospitalization for self-inflicted injuries. “Children who were living in a step or blended family arrangement in 1993, compared with those living in original two-parent families,” report the researchers, “were at elevated risk for hospitalisation for DSH later in life.” The elevation of risk, was in fact quite dramatic: the researchers calculate that children in step-parent or blended families faced “2.28 times the risk for hospitalisation with DSH” that children in intact families faced.

Since epidemiologists report that an episode of deliberate self harm is one of “the strongest predictors of future completed suicide,” it is hardly surprising that the Western Australian researchers interpret their findings in the context of earlier research concluding that, compared to children in intact families, “children in step-parent families are at higher risk for suicide attempt.”

If Americans are serious about driving down the distressingly high suicide rate among adolescents, they need to pay attention to this sobering report from Down Under.

(Francis Mitrou et al., “Antecedents of Hospital Admission for Deliberate Self-Harm from a 14–Year Follow-Up Study Using Data-Linkage,” BMC Psychiatry 10 [October 18, 2010]: 82.)

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