The number of young people admitted to hospital as a result of self-harm has rocketed over the last 10 years, new figures have revealed, with experts blaming online bullying and social media for the rise.
NHS figures looking at under-18s show that the number of girls receiving treatment in hospital after cutting themselves has increased by 385%, from 600 in 2005-2006 to 2,311 over the same period in 2014-2015.
The number of boys who were admitted to hospital for cutting also rose, with 457 young men receiving treatment in 2014-2015 compared to 160 10 years earlier.
Hanging and poisoning as methods of self-harm have also become increasingly prevalent among young people, figures obtained by the Guardian show.
Experts believe the worrying increase could be down to the rise of the internet and social media over the past decade.
Ruth Ayres, Project Manager at selfharmUK, said bullying online had made it harder for young people to escape abuse: “If someone is bullied now, they will often continue to be bullied when they are at home and it can often feel like there is no end to the turmoil they are feeling.
“Social media is hugely addictive for young people and I think as adults we need to begin to help young people navigate the internet safely.”
Ms Ayres also pointed towards the prevalence of websites that provide young people with information on how to self harm.
Almost 14,000 young women were admitted to hospital after ingesting poisonous substances last year - an increase of 4,112 from 9,741 in 2005-2006. The number of boys poisoning themselves did not increase.
Hanging as a method of self-harm has also become more common, with 220 under 18s receiving hospital treatment between 2014 and 2015. In 2004-2005, 78 young people were admitted to hospital after hanging themselves.
Dr Peter Hindley, chair of the Faculty of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, agreed that social media was one of many issues leading young people to self harm, telling the Guardian:
“The rise is likely to be as a result of many factors but the most important ones are likely to be: growing inequality in the age of austerity, the negative impact of the digital age, increasing sexualisation – this is particularly important for girls – and the impact of abuse and sexual exploitation, and increased pressure to succeed.”
Last week the health secretary Jeremy Hunt criticised the mental health services available to young people, calling them the “biggest single area of weakness in NHS provision”.
Mr Hunt said “too many tragedies” were happening because services were failing to intervene early enough when problems such as eating disorders emerged.
Mental health charity Young Minds report that more than a quarter of young people in the UK (26%) experience suicidal thoughts.
But Ms Ayres said there are still a number of places for young people struggling with self-harm to turn to for support.
“Our site is a pro recovery site for young people to begin to ask questions and post their stories. It is a safe place for young people to go to when they need help and support.
“Childline have recently launched some online counselling that young people can access day or night and this can be helpful for young people struggling with self-harm to know there is someone to talk to,” she said.
“I would also encourage families to find a good GP, one they trust and can talk to openly about these things.”
Useful websites and helplines:
Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
Get Connected is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
HopeLine runs a confidential advice helpline if you are a young person at risk of suicide or are worried about a young person at risk of suicide. Mon-Fri 10-5pm and 7pm-10pm. Weekends 2pm-5pm on 0800 068 41 41