One in six (16%) of more than 11,000 children surveyed reported self-harming at this age, including nearly one in 10 boys (9%).
“I felt like self-harming was what I wanted to do and had to do as there was nothing else I could do,” one child told the charity who produce the annual Good Childhood Report, examining the state of children’s wellbeing in the UK.
The anonymous child said: “Feeling not pretty enough or good enough as other girls did contribute towards my self-harming, however, I don’t feel just being a girl is the reason as I think boys feel the same way too”.
Based on the new figures, The Children’s Society estimates nearly 110,000 children aged 14 may have self-harmed across the UK during the same 12-month period, including 76,000 girls and 33,000 boys.
Almost half of 14-year-olds who said they had been attracted to people of the same gender or both genders said they had self-harmed (46%). Four in 10 of these children had shown signs of depression (38%) and three in 10 had low wellbeing (30%) - both compared with one in 10 of all children.
“It is deeply worrying that so many children are unhappy to the extent that they are self-harming,” said Matthew Reed, chief executive at The Children’s Society. “Worries about how they look are a big issue, especially for girls, but this report shows other factors such as how they feel about their sexuality and gender stereotypes may be linked to their unhappiness.”
The survey of 10- to 17-year-old children and their parents across 2,000 households, found children were least happy with school and their appearance.
Nearly a quarter (24%) said they heard jokes or comments about other people’s bodies or looks all of the time at school, while more than a fifth (22%) of those in secondary school said jokes or comments were often made about people’s sexual activity.
Both made girls feel much worse about their appearance and less happy with their life as a whole, but this pattern did not apply to boys.
The research also suggests both boys and girls can be harmed by gender stereotypes and pressure to live up to these expectations. Children felt under pressure from friends to be “good looking” but those who felt boys should be tough and girls should have nice clothes were least happy with life.
“It’s vital that children’s wellbeing is taken more seriously and that much more is done to tackle the root causes of their unhappiness and support their mental health."”
The report suggests that happiness with family relationships could be the best protection for children because it has the biggest positive influence on their overall wellbeing.
Analysing what can be taken away from the findings, the charity said early intervention is absolutely crucial if we want to tackle the feelings of low mood experienced by so many teenagers. “It’s vital that children’s wellbeing is taken more seriously and that much more is done to tackle the root causes of their unhappiness and support their mental health,” said Reed.
“Schools can play an important part in this and that is why we want the Government to make it a requirement for all secondary schools to offer access to a counsellor, regularly monitor children’s wellbeing and have their mental health provision assessed as part of Ofsted inspections.”
Reed added that ministers must “urgently address” the £2bn funding shortfall facing council children’s services departments by 2020.
Responding to report, Dr Max Davie, officer for health promotion for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said these latest figures highlight just how urgent the need for appropriate action is.
“We know that poor mental health can lead to poor employment prospects and an increased risk of drug and alcohol use,” says Davie. “So it is important that support is fully inclusive, joined up and offered to children and young people early to give them the best possible chance in later life.
“To ensure the best possible outcomes, several teams including primary care, local authority and child health services must collaborate to support all children no matter how they enter the mental health system.”
Barnardo’s chief executive, Javed Khan said the report supports his view that we are “sleepwalking into a mental health crisis” with too little being done too late to help vulnerable children. “It’s truly devastating that so many children are so unhappy with their lives that they are self-harming,” he said. “This is often an expression of a deeper problem, which is why early intervention is vital.”
Khan said it is unacceptable that three in four children with a diagnosable mental health condition do not get access to the support they need and the average waiting time for CAMHS services in England is six months for a first appointment and 10 months until the start of treatment, arguing that early intervention as well as more support is desperately needed.
For more information and support:
PAPYRUS: Children and parents can contact HOPELineUK for advice and support from the national charity dedicated to the prevention of young suicide. It is confidential and you will not be judged. Call 0800 0684141, text 07786209697 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Childline: Remind your child that Childline is there to give them free, confidential support and advice, 24 hours a day on 0800 1111 or at www.childline.org.uk.
YoungMinds: The parents helpline offers free, confidential online and telephone support, including information and advice, to any adult worried about the emotional problems, behaviour or mental health of a child or young person up to the age of 25. Call 0808 8025544.