Ministers are to unveil a series of measures this week designed to counter a growing crisis of childhood depression, self-harm and teenage suicide.

Ministers are to unveil a series of measures this week designed to counter a growing crisis of childhood depression, self-harm and teenage suicide.

John Reid, the Secretary of State for Health, is expected to announce an increase in the number of specialist clinics for teenagers and children - particularly those at risk of killing themselves - and a better regime of training for doctors.

Thousands of children are thought to be at risk of turning into disturbed adults unless urgent action is taken to improve child psychiatric services.

The suicide rate is now three times higher than it was 20 years ago among schoolchildren, with children as young as five being treated for self-harming.

A report published by the Mental Health Foundation revealed that as many as 24,000 teenagers a year - the majority girls - seek help for injuries inflicted during bouts of self-harm but many more do not seek professional help. The main causes of rising rates of self-harm among children and teenagers in the UK - believed to be the highest in Europe - are bullying, exam stress, an abusive parent or bereavement.

Parentline Plus, a support helpline for parents, says that 10 per cent of callers reported their children were having suicidal thoughts and 6 per cent said their children had attempted suicide.

For the past decade, child mental health groups such as Young Minds have complained about a decline in facilities for adolescents at risk, despite increased demand. A number of specialist schools and hospital clinics have been closed.

Last week, a teenage girl died after taking a drugs overdose with her best friend in what is understood to have been a suicide pact. Laura Rhodes, 13, died last weekend at her home in Neath, South Wales. Her best friend, Rebecca Ling, 14, whom she met over the internet, survived and was released from hospital last Wednesday.

The reforms aimed at young people at risk of suicide are expected to be included in the Government's National Service Framework for children, its 10-year strategy to improve children's health and welfare services, which will be published on Wednesday.

The Government has already announced a shake-up of child mental health services, including a country-wide audit of specialist children's services to identify gaps in treatment for conditions such as autism. The findings will be made public so that parents can have better access to treatment for their children.

Professor Louis Appleby, the Government's mental health tsar, said earlier this year that he wants to bring in an "army of therapists" and improve training for people who deal with children who are at risk. This includes recruiting them from abroad, from countries that have similar healthcare systems to Britain.

He said that the mental well-being of children is "everyone's business". "Child suicide is still an unusual phenomenon compared with the deaths of young adults, but it's such an appalling thing that the numbers are not necessarily the issue," Professor Appleby said.

Children are included in the Government's national suicide prevention strategy, but charities say more needs to be done. This is backed up by a report published last year from the Commission for Health Improvement, which criticised the fact that services for children suffering from mental illness such as depression were falling behind those for adults.

One big concern among children's support groups is the growth in websites where subscribers offer advice to young people who want to take their own lives about the best methods of killing themselves. Under existing laws, anyone who helps another person to commit suicide faces a maximum prison term of 14 years.

DRIVEN TO TAKE THEIR OWN LIVES

Laura Rhodes, 13

Laura, from Neath, South Wales, was found dead last weekend, after apparently entering a suicide pact with her friend Rebecca Ling, 14. Only a few hours earlier, the pair had been reunited with their families after running away from home. They had met on an internet chat room a year ago. Locals in Neath have reported that Laura had been teased at school. Rebecca narrowly survived the suicide attempt.

Tina Dziki, 15

Tina was found by teachers in her school gym in south London in May. Her last words before she died were: "I've done something really stupid." A suicide note suggested that she found exams "too stressful". The note, which was addressed to her school friends, continued: "Please don't let this disrupt your exams. They are more important than me."

Dean Worswick, 15

Dean was an aspiring actor who had played schoolboy Warren Shipley in the ITV soap Coronation Street for a few months when he was 11 years old. Further parts followed in the BBC series Cops and Channel 4's Shameless. But in March, Dean was found dead near his home in Bolton after sending farewell text messages to family and friends. Police accepted that the teenager had committed suicide.

Gemma Dimmick, 15

Gemma became the second pupil at her school to commit suicide in the space of a fortnight in June last year. An inquest later heard that she had taken her life after being bullied over an 11-month period at Hirst High School in Ashington, Northumberland. A 16-year-old boy, Karl Peart, had earlier killed himself. The school's headteacher, Ged Lee, denied that the school had a bullying problem.

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