Why is self-harm on the rise amongst teenagers?

The 1st March 2016 marked Self-Injury Awareness Day. For nearly two decades it has raised awareness about the effects of self-harm and has been a significant factor in bringing it into the public consciousness.

The more aware people are about self-harm, its causes and effects, the better equipped they are to understand those who do it. By banishing judgement and fear and garnering empathy, the greater the chances of those who suffer and feel alone will speak out and break their silence.

It’s difficult to accurately determine how many people in the UK are self-harming as many will not come forward, but the figures available still indicate alarming growth. In 2014 there was a reported 70% increase in the number of 10-14 year olds attending A&E for self-harm related reasons. This spike happened over a two year period.

Across the last five years hospital figures have significantly increased. The number of patients under the age of 18 who were admitted to A&E for intentional self-harm was 13,504 in 2010/11 whereas by 2014/15 this had risen to 17,019. Once again, due to the difficulty in gauging the breadth of the issue, it’s possible these statistics only hint at its true size.

What is causing the increase in the number of young people self-harming?

It’s thought that one of the biggest causes of the rise in the number of children who are self-harming is the increasing prevalence of mental illness amongst young people.

Nearly 8 out of 10 schools reported seeing an increase in the number of pupils self-harming or having suicidal thoughts. Of 338 UK schools more than half (55%) have witnessed a large increase in cases of anxiety and stress amongst its pupils. The number of children diagnosed with a mental illness has more than doubled in the last five years. In 2010/11 around 7,000 patients under the age of 18 were admitted to A&E for a mental health disorder. By 2014/15 this figure had risen dramatically to almost 15,000.

Mental illness and damaging behaviours often go hand-in-hand, particularly when left untreated. It’s not uncommon for sufferers to turn to self-harm or substance abuse which explains the rising number of children choosing to hurt themselves on purpose.

At the same time that mental health problems are increasing, nearly two-thirds of schools say that it has become more difficult to access mental health care from local services. Of those who have gained access, 53% say that the help they received was of a ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ standard.

This means that even when pupils have been identified as having mental health issues, they’re not getting the help they need. When they are left feeling confused, alone and unable to cope, is when they are turning to self-harm.

Malcolm Trobe, acting General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders commented:

“The fact is that children today face an extraordinary range of pressures. They live in a world of enormously high expectations, where new technologies present totally new challenges such as cyber-bullying. There has seldom been a time when specialist mental health care is so badly needed and yet it often appears to be the poor relation of the health service. Early intervention is essential before problems become entrenched and start to increase in severity. These services are a vital lifeline that many young people cannot do without.”

It has also been noted that the Government isn’t living up to its pre-election promises to do more to support young children in the battle with mental illness. In March 2015 it was announced that £1.25 billion would be spent over five years in a bid to improve young people’s mental health services but already, in the first year, the Government has underspent by £107 million.

A number of other causes are likely to contribute to the rise in children and teenagers who are self-harming:

  • Family breakdown – divorce rates continue to hit record highs resulting in broken homes. As well as this, the appeal of emigration soars, so friends and family may relocate resulting in children feeling more isolated.
  • School-related stress – exam pressure and social pressure in schools are a longstanding issue
  • Body image – the availability, through the internet and social media, of images creating false senses of ‘perfection’ is a blight on the self-confidence and body image of young people.

If you are self-harming or you know somebody that is, please feel free to contact Life Works in the strictest of confidence and we will be more than happy to help.

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