A strained mother-daughter relationship along with a low level of serotonin, the brain chemical that plays a crucial role in mood stability, may make adolescents, predominantly girls, more vulnerable to engage in self-harming behaviours like cutting, says a new study.
The new study from University of Washington has revealed that the combination of mother-daughter disagreement, low serotonin level account for 64 percent among the girls involved in self-harming behaviours.
''Girls who engage in self harm are at high risk for attempting suicide, and some of them are dying,'' said Theodore Beauchaine, co-author of the study and UW associate professor of psychology.
''Most people think in terms of biology or environment rather than biology and environment working together.
''Having a low level of serotonin is a biological vulnerability for self-harming behaviour and that vulnerability increases remarkably when it is paired with maternal conflict,'' he added.
The team of researchers conducted the study over 20 adolescents with self-harming behaviour three or more times in the past six months or five or more times in their lifetimes and 21 age-matched adolescents who did not harm themselves with two boys.
The mother and child were then asked to fill behavioural questionnaires that assessed the teenagers' mental health and self-injurious behaviours, and one that categorized the areas of conflict between parents and teenagers.
They were also asked to discuss a specific problem topic for 10 minutes and after the discussion small amounts of blood were drawn from the adolescents to assess their serotonin level.
Shiela Crowell, co author and a doctoral student said that doing chores at home was the most common area of conflict.
''You would think that they would be civil to each other in this kind of situation, but many of these topics were hot and within five minutes some of our subjects were arguing with each other,'' said Beauchaine.
Beauchaine believes that identifying the finding the underlying causes of self-inflicted injuries and developing prevention programs should be a national priority because self-harming behaviour can lead to suicide.
''Once self-harming behaviour starts it is difficult to stop. Over time, with something such as cutting, children's bodies react to it in a way that helps reduce biological and psychological pain. They essentially become addicted to this behaviour. So you want to prevent this behaviour before it starts,'' he added.
The study appears in the current issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.