Self-harming on the rise in N.B. university students

Self-harming — cutting, burning and scratching is on the rise for New Brunswick university students, according to one university psychologist.

Self-harming — cutting, burning and scratching — is on the rise for New Brunswick university students, according to one university psychologist.

The University of New Brunswick has been tracking the numbers for a month and a half in a program called Titanium and already the results are disturbing.

As of January, people who come to the UNB counselling services for help fill in an electronic form. One question asks about non-suicidal self harm.

Since then 260 people have sought counselling, according to school staff – 91 one of them, or 35 per cent, say they are self-harming, including:

  • 12.1 per cent prior to starting university.
  • 5.4 per cent after starting university.
  • 17.9 per cent both before and during university.

Having to focus on something else, is one strategy psychologist Nancy Buzzell uses to relieve stress in her clients.

She said 20 years ago she saw clients with extreme abuse and trauma background that would injure themselves by cutting or burning arms or legs to relieve anxiety.

At a course she recently gave, she realized how that behaviour has gone mainstream.

"There were about 100 students and they were in four groups and I was asked to talk about self-injury to them, and I asked for a show of hands, 'How many of you know someone who self-injures?'" Buzzell said.

"In all the groups, there wasn't a group lower than about 79 per cent and in one it was 95 per cent of them who raised their hands."

The cutting releases endorphins, the body's painkiller, according to Buzzell.

"They say 'It gives me control. It helps me deal with emotions. It gives me release.' They frequently say it's a release. Many of them say 'It calms me down,'" said Buzzell.

Techniques to stop the self-harming range from re-directing your concentration, to deep breathing, to going for a run, Buzzell said.

However, Buzzell said she was recently told self-injury is starting to show up in elementary school children.