06/08/2018 12:16 BST | Updated 06/08/2018 12:36 BST

Self-Harm: How To Spot The Warning Signs And Talk To Teenagers

The number of girls under 18 being treated in hospital after self-harming has surged.

Hospital admissions of girls under the age of 18 related to self-harm have nearly doubled in 20 years, according to new NHS figures that show 13,463 were treated last year compared with 7,327 in 1997.

Within that figure, there has been an almost tenfold increase in attempts at substance overdose, the figures, first reported by The Times, indicate. 

If you are concerned that a teenager may be at risk of self-harm, here’s what you can do.

Know the warning signs. Self-harm can be both physical and emotional, with signs of physical abuse including cuts, bruises and burns as well as bald patches from pulling out hair. But teenagers may stay covered up in long-sleeved clothes even when it’s really hot outside in order to hide them.

Emotional signs that could indicate a child may self-harm, or may be at risk of self-harming, can include depression, tearfulness and low motivation, sudden weight loss or gain, drinking or drug taking and withdrawn behaviour.

It’s good to talk. According to the NSPCC, opening up a conversation with a teenager that you think might be self-harming or at risk of self-harm could be a good starting point.

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The charity recommends it’s important to think about where and how to talk so children will listen, and to create an environment that is neutral and calm. For example, consider prompting a conversation where siblings can’t overhear, or in a relaxed setting - such as on a walk, in the car, or on a bike ride.

Striking a balance is also really key. Opening up a conversation too forcefully may cause a teen to clam up, but staying too subtle may mean the issue goes unaddressed. The NSPCC has some further tips here. 

Seek help for yourself, too. Young Minds is a charity that runs a free Parents Helpline manned by trained advisors. It offers advice to anyone worried about a child or young person under 25. They can be contacted on 0808 802 5544.

It also has an online parents survival guide which provides information about some common mental health conditions, how children and young people can cope, and where parents can go to get help. 

The NSPCC helpline, on 0808 800 5000 is also available to parents and guardians for advice.

Talk to healthcare professionals. Speak to your GP if you have concerns. It might be that a young person could benefit from professional support, including from counselling. Always phone for medical help if the situation is an emergency.

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: help@themix.org.uk