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Self-harm among children and young people on the rise

Teenagers aged 13 to 17 most likely to need hospital treatment

Caroline White

Friday, 09 December 2016

Nearly 19,000 children and young people in England and Wales were treated in hospital for self-harm last year, representing an increase of almost 2,400 (14%) over the past three years, reveal figures issued today by charity NSPCC.

Teenagers aged 13 to 17 are most likely to end up in needing hospital treatment for acts of self-harm that include cutting, overdosing on pills, or burning themselves.

The figures, which were obtained after a Freedom of Information Request (FOI) was made to NHS Trusts and Health Boards, highlight that a growing number of hospital beds are being filled by children who have taken violent steps to cope with the pressures of modern life, says the NSPCC.

They also reinforce the need for services, such as Childline, which the charity is backing in its fund raising Christmas campaign. Currently, the free and confidential helpline for young people can only deal with three in every four of those that reach out for help, says the NSPCC.

Figures from Childline show that it delivered 18,471 counselling sessions about self-harm last year – equivalent to 50 a day.

The NSPCC has published advice for anyone who suspects a child or young person is or considering self-harm, which includes showing empathy and understanding, talking it over to try and understand the triggers, building their confidence, and helping them find alternative ways of coping.

Peter Wanless, Chief Executive of the NSPCC, said: “A frightening number of children and teenagers are being driven to self-harm as a way of dealing with unresolved feelings, tensions and distress in their lives.”

He added: “Knowing hospital beds are full of young people crying out for help should be a real wake up call to all those that care for the wellbeing of the younger generation. It is vital we confront the fact that an increasing number are struggling to deal with the pressures and demands of modern-day life, to such an extent they are inflicting terrible damage upon themselves.”

Childline President, Dame Esther Rantzen, added: “[Self-harming] has become one of the most common problems young people bring to us, and I know from our counsellors that these are some of the most painful stories we hear. Often the young people feel too ashamed and fearful to seek help from those around them, until they harm themselves so badly they have to be rushed to hospital.”

Commenting on the figures, Dr Max Davie, Assistant Officer for Health Promotion for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said: “Whilst we don’t know what it was that brought all 19,000 children to self-harm, what we do know is that support was not offered early enough to prevent it from getting this serious.”

He added: “Early intervention is essential if we are to reduce the number of children self-harming and needing specialist mental health or emergency services. One way of providing this is for all schools to deliver comprehensive Personal Social Health Economic (PSHE) education, teaching children about emotional wellbeing and addressing challenging mental health issues such as eating disorders, self-harm and suicide in addition to other important topics like positive relationships, sex education and the dangers of drugs and alcohol abuse. PSHE isn’t currently offered in all school – something the RCPCH, and other health organisations have long called on Government to deliver.”

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