Rates of self harm higher for children from broken homes

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The Independent Online

Children of divorced or single parents are almost twice as likely to harm themselves or try to commit suicide as those from two-parent families, new figures revealed yesterday.

Children of divorced or single parents are almost twice as likely to harm themselves or try to commit suicide as those from two-parent families, new figures revealed yesterday.

Self-harm is also more common among children who have been disturbed by events such as a major illness, a parent or close relative dying, or serious discord in the home.

Girls aged 13 to 15 are generally at greatest risk with 3.1 per cent having tried to hurt themselves, according to a survey of parents conducted by the Office for National Statistics.

Among five to 10-year-olds, more than one per cent of children had tried to harm or kill themselves. The lowest rate was among girls under the age of seven and the highest rate among boys aged eight to 10.

For young children from single-parent homes, the rate of self harm rose to 1.9 per cent and for those from families with a large amount of discord the rate rose to nearly four per cent.

The likelihood of self-harm also rose dramatically among children who had suffered mental disorders such as anxiety, attention deficit or behavioural problems.

Peter Wilson, of the children's mental health charity Young Minds, said that parents underestimate how deeply young people can be affected by family problems. "There is a significant proportion of children who feel very distressed and can find no other way of expressing that than through self-harm. It is an indicator of how desperate some children are – desperate about their lives, their families and what is going on around them.

"Extreme life events such as a parent dying, or disappearing through divorce or separation, are dramatic for children, but people underestimate how sensitive they are."

Across the age groups, the children of parents in unskilled occupations were almost three times as likely to harm themselves as those whose parents were in professional jobs.

A spokeswoman for the children's charity, the NSPCC, said: "Children are deeply affected by bereavement, frequent punishment and family breakdown, and they can direct their hurt against themselves."

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