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Teen Girls Self-harm Major Health Issue in UK

Self-harm 'most pressing health issue for teenage girls'
By Sarah Womack, Social Affairs Correspondent

One in 10 teenage girls harms herself each year according to the largest study of self-harm among teenagers in England.

The problem is far more widespread than previously thought and often associated with a child being bullied at school, physically or sexually abused, or worried about being gay, say academics.

They claim that self-harming is so common that it is a "most pressing health issue for teenagers".

In the survey of more than 6,000 pupils aged 15 and 16, girls were four times more likely to have engaged in self-harm than boys. Three per cent of boys were harming themselves last year, compared with 11 per cent of girls.

Previous, lower, estimates were based on the 25,000 youngsters who go to hospitals in England and Wales each year as a result of deliberate self-poisoning or self-injury.

However, research by the universities of Bath and Oxford found that only 13 per cent of self-harming incidents reported by pupils actually resulted in a hospital visit.

Although self-poisoning is the most common form of self-harm reported in hospitals, cutting is the more prevalent form of self-harm (64.5 per cent), followed by overdose (31 per cent), the research says.

"Deliberate self-harm is common amongst teenagers in England, especially in girls," said Dr Karen Rodham, of the psychology department at Bath University.

Prof Keith Hawton, from the Centre for Suicide Research at Oxford University, who directed the project, said: "In many cases, self-harming behaviour represents a transient period of distress, but for others it is an important indicator of mental health problems and risk of suicide.

"It is important that we develop effective school-based initiatives that tackle what has become a most pressing health issue for teenagers."

The research, done with the Samaritans charity, has been published in a book, By Their Own Young Hand, which includes advice for teachers on how to detect young people at risk. The study involved 41 schools in Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire and Birmingham in 2000 and 2001.

Pupils were asked to complete a questionnaire which explored issues surrounding self-harm and suicidal thinking - together with other personal factors such as depression, anxiety, impulsive behaviour and self-esteem.

Those who reported self-harm were asked to provide a description of the act, its motivation and consequences. "The reasons why boys and girls decide to self-harm are varied but the most frequent motive expressed by both males and females was as a means of coping with distress," said Dr Rodham.

For both sexes there was an increase in deliberate self-harm with increased consumption of cigarettes, alcohol and drugs.

Self-harm was more common in pupils who had been bullied and was strongly associated with physical and sexual abuse in both sexes.

Those who had recently been worried about their sexual orientation had relatively higher rates of self-harm.

Most of those who said they self-harmed said it was an impulsive act. Almost half of those who cut themselves said they thought about harming themselves for less than an hour beforehand.

Source telegraph.co.uk