PTSA self-injury presentation examines growing problem

By Anna Nguyen

The Parent Teacher Student Association invited members of the community to learn about an issue that continues to affect students: intentional self-injury. Hoping to spread awareness on the subject, why people do it, and how the behavior can be treated, the PTSA presented a panel of speakers to talk to, and answer questions from, the audience. The speakers were: Fran Gatlin, school psychologist and "nationally recognized Suicidologist," Scott Koenigsberg, an HCA Health Care psychologist, and Fred Rappina, a Fairfax County Police Officer and Robinson School Resource Officer.
According to LifeSigns, an organization for self injury guidance and support, "Self-injury is any deliberate, non-suicidal behavior that inflicts physical harm on your body and is aimed at relieving emotional distress".
"Ms. Gatlin has seen a rise in the number of Robinson students who engage in self-injury and felt this would be a worthwhile topic to present as youth who are depressed, stressed, or have other mental issues engage in self-injury," explained Pat Wirth, president of the PTSA. "[She] counsels middle and high school students from every socioeconomic background.  These students include band members, IB students, athletes and everyone else. No one is immune," said Wirth.
Gatlin discussed that self-injury is an ineffective coping strategy used to deal with deeper problems. These problems may be depression, eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, obsessive-compulsive traits, history of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, personality disorders, and other mental, psychological, and emotional issues.
Koenigsberg also added that the behavior may be due to family history. "Often times if there is a significant family history of mental health or substance abuse issues there is a greater chance that their child could be at risk for the same self destructive behaviors or other self destructive behaviors," he said.
Addressing the demographic of intentional self injurers, Gatlin noted that most self-injurers are female and begin the behavior during adolescence. However, males are also known to injure themselves more aggressively and the behavior may continue or begin in adulthood. She stressed that since intentional self-injury is an ineffective coping strategy, it is important for self-injurers to seek help in order to discover more effective ways to cope with their problems.
"Getting early, effective treatment may keep [teens] from experiencing other self-destructive and self-defeating behaviors," noted Gatlin
Rappina, also an Internet security specialist as well as a Robinson security officer, said that the Internet can be a negative influence on students. Rappina investigates harmful web sites viewed by students on the school computers, and in the past, he encountered web sites that acted as forums for people to meet, discuss, and or compare their self-injurious behavior. He emphasized the necessity for parents to be vigilant and aware of the material that their children access on the Internet.

By Stephanie Axelrod |  November 17, 2006; 8:01 AM ET
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