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A growing number of young people are cutting or biting themselves to manage their emotions, according to a Fredericton-based psychologist. (iStock)

A new program aimed at helping the growing number of young people in New Brunswick who are self-harming was launched on Wednesday.

Nancy Buzzell, a licensed psychologist with counselling services at the University of New Brunswick, says more young people are biting themselves, making deep scratches on their skin or worse as a way to manage their emotions and gain a sense of control.

"I think most people would agree that it's more frequent and it's on the rise," said Buzzell, who helped introduce the Friends of Life program in co-operation with Capital Region Mental Health & Addictions.

"The statistics are about 14 per cent across the board in North America, but the range goes from seven to 38 per cent.  So university students and young people that are still in middle school and high school, are doing this as a way of coping."

'It's a habit. And for some people, it's a very old habit. But if a student really wants to change it, they can.'—Psychologist Nancy Buzzell

But the problem is changeable, she stressed.

"It's a habit. And for some people, it's a very old habit. But if a student really wants to change it, they can and we know how to change it."

The program will teach youth with anxiety and depression problems stress management techniques such as relaxation and how to look at things differently, said Buzzell.

It will also provide teachers, counsellors, and parents with valuable tools.

Connections key to coping

"It’s about getting youth connected, offering programs, teaching them to manage their emotions, which is a skill, it’s a psychological skill. Taking a deep breath is very simple and it can go a long way to calming people down," she said.

Buzzell believes technology has started to replace human intimacy, leaving young people disconnected and ill-equipped to deal with their emotions.

"The students that I walk by, they're you know, 18, 20, in that range. They all have ear buds, and they don't relate, they don't make eye contact — it's like they're in a little shell," she said.

"And then when I'm in other places, again, the students seem like they're in a world of their own. They're the most connected generation ever and yet I don't know that they're really connected."

It's important for counsellors, as well as family and friends, to make a personal connection with those who are hurting themselves, said Buzzell.

"Connection with people that matter in your life and people that you can talk to about things is really, really important. It's part of resiliency," she said.