More than one in five teenage girls think about hurting themselves some or all of the time, according to a major new report shared exclusively with HuffPost UK.
Girls are twice as likely as boys to think about self-harm, and children who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual are also more likely to experience such thoughts, according to Addaction, which surveyed more than 8,500 secondary school pupils.
The charity asked teenagers whether they ever thought about hurting themselves, whether any of their close friends self-harm, and how common they believed self-harm to be among people their age.
The survey found that 40 per cent of girls aged 13 to 17 years old believed that many or most people their age self-harm, compared with 20 per cent of boys.
Sixteen per cent of respondents said they had a close friend who currently self-harmed; asked separately if they’d had a close friend who self-harmed in the past, just under 40 percent of girls said yes, compared to 24 percent of boys.
The findings raise “a major red flag about mental health and young people, especially for girls and young women,” said Rick Bradley, who leads a support programme in schools on behalf of Addaction.
Cases of self-harm appear to be rising in schools: one secondary teacher told HuffPost UK that their school had banned pencil sharpeners in class to prevent students from using the blades to hurt themselves.
Recent research from the University of Manchester found that self-harm among teenage girls aged 13-16 rose by 68 per cent between 2011 and 2014. NHS data shows that the number of girls admitted to hospital for self harm jumped from 7,327 in 1997 to 13,463 in 2017, while admissions for boys stayed relatively constant – 2,236 in 1997 to 2,332 in 2017.
Self-harm is common among young people. Charity YoungMinds estimates that 10 per cent of 15- to 16-year-olds self harm, with the issue seeming to be particularly prevalent among 14-year-olds.
Tom Madders, campaigns director at YoungMinds, said self-harm is one of the main issues the charity hears about on its parents helpline currently, and that extra funding is crucial. “At the moment, it’s far too difficult for children and young people to get mental health support before they reach crisis point,” he said.
The Children’s Society suggests nearly a quarter of UK girls this age have deliberately harmed themselves. One teenager told The Children’s Society: “I felt like self-harming was what I wanted to do and had to do as there was nothing else I could do. I think there is help for young people but not the right kind of help.”
The reasons behind self-harm are complex, and vary from person to person.
However there are two factors which crop up regularly, says Rick Bradley: being unable to switch off from social media, and struggling to cope with academic pressures.
“There just seems to be a huge amount of pressure on young people these days and I think it’s harder for them to get away from these pressures,” he said.
Addaction’s Mind and Body programme tries to help young people who need help. The charity works in schools to try and identify young people who self-harm or are vulnerable to self-harming behaviours, in order to provide them with more support, including one-on-one sessions.
“'There seems to be a huge amount of pressure on young people these days'”
It is not uncommon for students to disclose suicidal thoughts during these one-on-one sessions, said Bradley. The two can be interlinked – more than half of people who die by suicide have a history of self-harm.
The Mind and Body Programme, which piloted in 2014, aims to fill the hole between what CAMHS (childhood and mental health services) and school services – both often oversubscribed – can offer.
Sarah, who struggled with anxiety, particularly in social situations, and had regular thoughts of self-harm, found that her emotional wellbeing improved and her thoughts about self-harm were reduced after completing the programme.
The student also felt far more comfortable discussing her mental health and feelings with her mum Beth. “I have noticed my daughter now seems to be more aware of when she is starting to feel down and so can use the tools she was shown to help her manage her anxiety to a better level,” said Beth.
Signs Of Self-Harm In Young People
:: Unexplained cuts, burns, bite-marks, bruises or bald patches.
:: Keeping themselves covered, avoiding swimming or changing clothes around others.
:: Bloody tissues in waste bins.
:: Being withdrawn or isolated from friends and family.
:: Low mood, lack of interest in life, depression or outbursts of anger.
:: Blaming themselves for problems or expressing feelings of failure, uselessness, or hopelessness.
Bradley argues that there must be more done to help children. “We need to do much more to support children and young people. Schools and support services are stretched and the threshold for CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) has never been higher,” he said.
Earlier this week, Chancellor Philip Hammond pledged a minimum of £2 billion a year to NHS mental health services. Some of this money is expected to be given to schools to put in place mental health leads and support teams for pupils.
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- 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.)
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on www.rethink.org.