Nearly a quarter of girls aged 14 have self-harmed in the past year, an alarming report shows, prompting renewed calls for the government to address the “crisis in children's mental health”.
A study by the Children’s Society estimates that nearly 110,000 children aged 14 may have self-harmed across the UK during the same 12-month period, including 76,000 girls and 33,000 boys.
Almost half of teenagers who said they were attracted to people of the same gender or both genders had harmed themselves. Children from lower-income households also had a higher than average risk of self-harming.
The findings have prompted concerns that a shortfall in social care funding and difficulties accessing mental health support are pushing a growing number of teenagers to "crisis point".
One young person told the charity: “I felt like self-harming was what I wanted to do and had to do as there was nothing else I could do. I think there is help for young people but not the right kind of help.
She added: ”Feeling not pretty enough or good enough as other girls did contribute towards my self-harming.”
The research found girls were significantly less happy than boys with their lives as a whole, and with each aspect of life measured in the survey. The largest gender gap was for appearance – over 1.5 points difference on a 10-point scale.
It comes after a study by the University of Manchester last October found self-harm among teenage girls (10-19) had risen by 68 per cent in three years.
Matthew Reed, chief executive at the Children’s Society, said: “It’s vital that children’s well-being is taken more seriously and that much more is done to tackle the root causes of their unhappiness and support their mental health.
“Schools can play an important part in this and that is why we want the government to make it a requirement for all secondary schools to offer access to a counsellor, regularly monitor children’s well-being and have their mental health provision assessed as part of Ofsted inspections.
“Issues like appearance, gender stereotypes and sexuality should be included in the new Relationships and Sex Education curriculum.
“However, early support for vulnerable children and families in the community, which can help prevent mental health problems from developing, is also vital, and ministers must urgently address the £2bn funding shortfall facing council children’s services departments by 2020.”
Dr Bernadka Dubicka, chair of the child and adolescent faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists said the huge rates of self-harm among were largely due to a shortfall in social care funding and family support, as well as a lack of community child and adolescent psychiatrists.
“These disturbing figures highlight the sheer number of young people continuing to struggle with mental health issues,” she said.
“Bullying at school – including being teased about your sexuality - has been highlighted as a particular worry for young people, and so we welcome the additional funding promised by the government for early intervention in schools.
“Children must be able to access help for their mental health difficulties from services before they fall into crisis.”
Cllr Roy Perry, vice chairman of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said cuts to local authority budgets meant councils were finding it increasingly difficult to support children.
“Many councils are being forced to cut early intervention work, including youth services, which helps children avoid reaching crisis point, perform better at school and avoid mental health issues in later life,” he said.
“This is why we are calling for councils and schools to be given the funding to offer independent mental health counselling so pupils have access to support as and when they need it."
Dr Max Davie, officer for health promotion for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said: “Mental health is one of the biggest health epidemics of our time and is strongly linked to social disadvantage. These latest figures further emphasise this and highlight just how urgent the need for appropriate action is.
“We know that poor mental health can lead to poor employment prospects and an increased risk of drug and alcohol use, so it is important that support is fully inclusive, joined up and offered to children and young people early to give them the best possible chance in later life.”
He said that to ensure the best possible outcomes, primary care, local authority and child health services must collaborate to support all children no matter how they enter the mental health system.
A government spokesperson said: “Making sure children and young people have the right mental health care when they need it is vital. That’s why we are investing an extra £300 million to provide more help in schools, which will include trained staff to provide faster support to children.
“We’ve extended our pilot scheme to deliver training in 20 more areas of the country this year to improve links between 1,200 schools and their mental health services, and as part of our long-term plan for the NHS we will announce more on how we will improve mental health later this year.”
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