Manchester is Europe's self-harm capital

Manchester has the highest rate of self-harm in Europe, according to a study released today.

Researchers from the Network for International Collaboration on Evidence in Suicide Prevention compared hospital admissions for self-harm from eight European countries between 1989 and 2003.

It found an average of 540 out of every 100,000 women in Manchester self-harmed each year. This was followed by Oxford, with 416 women per 100,000. The corresponding figures for men was 422 per 100,000 in Manchester and 416 per 100,000 in Oxford. These compare with 72 per 100,000 women and 64 per 100,000 men in Ljubljana, Slovenia, the country with the lowest rate.

Researchers said the findings backed up previous studies which suggests the UK has very high rates of self-harm compared with other European countries. Gent in Belgium, Cork and Limerick in Ireland, Sor-Trondelag in Norway and Umea in Sweden were the other cities included in the study.

The research will be presented at the 12th European Symposium on Suicide and Suicidal Behaviour, which begins tomorrow in Glasgow. Organised by the universities of Edinburgh and Stirling and attended by 550 experts from around the world, it will be the largest conference ever to be held in the UK on suicide and self-harm.

Professor Stephen Platt, of Edinburgh University, who is co-president of the event, said: "This latest research confirms we have a serious problem of self-harm in the UK, particularly among women.

"Although we have made excellent progress in improving support services, we still have a long way to go. Conferences such as this provide an opportunity to share our understanding of suicidal behaviour and to develop better care."

Other research being discussed at the conference includes a Stirling University-led study in which 700 teenagers aged 15 and 16 in central Scotland were questioned about self-harm. Around 14% of those reported they had self-harmed. About 20% of the sample group who reported self-harm were female and 7% were male.

In a follow-up study, 500 of those who took part were re-questioned six months later. The researchers found that over 6% of the sample group had reported self-harm during that period. Of these, 2.6% had self-harmed for the first time, and around 3.6% repeatedly self-harmed. About 8.5% of those who self-harmed were female, compared to about 4% of those who were male.

Professor Rory O'Connor, of Stirling University, said: "I think it is quite startling that within a six-month window you have got 6% of our young people - our 15 and 16-year-olds - who self-harm."

Academics also looked at what factors were important in predicting whether a person self-harmed in those six months. The study found those who reported having concerns about their sexual orientation, a history of sexual abuse or knew a family member who had self-harmed were five times more likely to self-harm. High levels of anxiety and low self-esteem were also key predictors.

Prof Platt said the younger a person was, the more likely they were to self-harm. He added that the risk of suicide was 60 to 100 times higher among those who had self-harmed.

The conference is being held at the Thistle Hotel from August 27 to 30.