Self-Harm at an all-time high in young people

Self-Harm at an all-time high in young people

By Nick Watts

 In what has been called a ‘generation under pressure’ self-harm is at one of the highest ever recorded levels in the UK. Figures released by the NHS shows that more than 1,800 children under 10 years old have been admitted to hospital in the last decade. In the last year alone 150 of the under 10’s were admitted to hospital for deliberate self-harm

These figures, as alarming as they are, are only the tip of the problem as during 2010-11 26,270 young females under 25 and 11,656 males of the same age were admitted to hospital as a result of self harming behaviour. The department of health has admitted in a statement that this is only a fraction of the problem, given the number of cases of self harm that do not present to a hospital.

Lucia Russell, from the charity Young Minds, told the independent today; "Self-harm is often dismissed as merely attention-seeking behaviour, but it's a sign that young people are feeling terrible internal pain and are not coping."

In separate figures released last week it was revealed that 40,000 young people under 25 had been seen in accident & emergency departments as a priority case, following an episode of self harm, which is 4,000 higher than the previous year.

The problem in reality

While these figures indicate a worrying problem, it is always different to see a true story of someone battling self-harm. In the last week a video on YouTube ( has swept the world, getting hundreds of thousands of views.  In this video, an incredibly brave young man shares his experiences of bullying and self-harm, telling his story and on-going dread about returning to school. He needs no words, as the emotion shown in this video shows what he and so many other young people are going through at what is a pivotal point of their lives.

Self-Harm in young people

Self-harming behaviour in young people is often the result of bullying, issues at home and the increasing pressures placed upon young people in today’s society, causing issues with low self-esteem. This coupled with the lack of investment in child and adolescent mental health services means children who present with self-harm are often patched up without a robust psychiatric follow up. The government has recently promised to invest more money improving access to psychological therapies for young people, to try and deal with issues before they continue on into adulthood.

It is important to remember that young people who self-harm are not always suicidal and it is often a way of simply expressing difficult feelings and emotions by physical means.  It is also often associated with attention seeking and certain groups of young people, which in turn leads young people to feel ashamed of their behaviour and not seek help for their problems.

Sarah Fullagar, who herself had a long standing problem with self-harm as a young person and now works for the UK organisation Body Gossip shares her thoughts on the issue;

“I think that hardest thing to do is just to stop doing it, I think it is a case of concentrating on building your confidence and self-esteem and eventually you start to forget about it and it becomes something you don’t feel you need to do. It didn’t mean I was suicidal, but I thought I needed to do it and didn’t know how to stop. There seems to be a stereotype people see when they think of people who self-harm which is one of the many reasons young people don’t seek help, which is why support not only needs to be made available to those suffering from problems with self-harm but education for all children needs to be done to stop the stigma associated with self-harm, to stop the opinion that it is attention seeking and something to be ashamed of”

The figures today and examples like the video of Jonah from the US and the experiences of Sarah highlight a need for better education and awareness in schools, as well as better intervention to ensure young people are treated early for a problem which is addictive in its nature. It also highlights the need to deal with the issues that cause young people to self-harm, including robust policy and action around bullying in all its forms and better support when family issues arise, as well as stronger intervention to help young people maintain a positive self-image and a healthy self-esteem.  

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