A survey of 11,000 children has found that 22% of girls and 9% of boys said they had hurt themselves on purpose, or ‘self-harmed’, in the year prior to the questionnaire.
It was also revealed that rates of self-harm were worst (46%) among those who were attracted to people of the same or both genders, with gender stereotypes and worries about looks also being some of the main factors contributing to unhappiness.
The data on self-harm was analysed by The Children’s Society under the ‘Millennium Cohort Study’, a continuing research project following the lives of 19,000 children born in the UK between 2000 and 2001.
Based on the figures, The Children’s Society estimates that 109,000 children aged 14 may have self-harmed across the UK during the 12-month period in 2015 – 76,000 girls and 33,000 boys.
It follows NHS data released this month that showed the number of admissions to hospital of girls aged 18 and under for self-harm had almost doubled in two decades, from 7,327 in 1997 to 13,463 in 2017.
Self-harm can include everything from punching or hitting to cutting or burning.
The NSPCC says common reasons for self-harming include:
- Pressure at school
- Emotional abuse
- Relationship problems with family or friends
An 18-year-old woman who used to self-harm said she had started at just age 12 in an attempt to deal with painful and overwhelming feelings.
She said: “It quickly became an obsession.
“My self-harm problem caused me to lie to those who cared about me, time and time again, as I pushed away the people around me.”
Self-harm was often “romanticised” on social media, which drew in the most vulnerable people, she said.
But professional support has helped her to stop and develop healthy ways of coping with her problems.
“Recovery has changed my life. I am a person I never thought I could be with a bright future ahead of me – yet I know others who haven’t received the help I did and are still battling.
“To those struggling, please talk to people you can trust – you can and will get through this.”
What adults can do to help a child who is self-harming:
- Show you understand
- Talk it over
- Discover the triggers
- Build their confidence
- Show you trust them
- Choose who you tell carefully
- Help them find new ways to cope
- How to spot warning signs
- Look for physical signs such as cuts, bruises, burns and bald patches from pulling out hair. These are commonly on the head, wrists, arms, thighs and chest.
The emotional signs are harder to spot and can include:
- tearfulness and low motivation
- becoming withdrawn and isolated, for example wanting to be alone in their bedroom for long periods
- sudden weight loss or gain
- low self-esteem and self-blame
- drinking or taking drugs
The Children’s Society has now called on the government to make it a requirement for all secondary schools to offer access to a counsellor and have their mental health services assessed in Ofsted inspections.
The Department of Health said it is investing an extra £300m to provide more mental health help in schools – including trained staff.
A spokesperson said: “We’ve extended our pilot scheme to deliver training in 20 more areas of the country this year to improve links between 1,200 schools and their mental health services.”
The government also said it will announce more on how it can improve mental health as part of its long-term plan for the NHS later this year.
For further information about self-harm, visit: