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Self-harm: a new epidemic?

A new study out in autumn 2014 suggests that self-harm among teens in England has trebled in the last decade.

The World Health Organisation study has looked at 6,000 young people aged 11, 13 and 15 and found that up to 1 in 5 15 year-olds say they self-harm. 

Professor Fiona Brooks, head of adolescent and child health at the University of Hertfordshire, who is leading the global study in England, says the problem is considerably worse among girls. This fits with what we know about girls' mental health: by the age of 15, 45% of adolescent girls say they feel low at least once a week, compared with 23% of boys.

Rachel Welch is director of, a website supporting the emotional needs of young people. She says: 'We know that the earlier you intervene, the easier it is to break this habit.'

Samaritans report that self-harm is the main reason people use their text messaging service. Anyone can send an SMS text message to Samaritans on 07725 90 90 90.

Self-harm was only recognised as a clinical diagnosis in May 2013 and still only 15% of those self-harming see doctors. It is a very good idea for a person who is self-harming to see a GP.

When a child gets help they are likely to be asked about their: 

  • physical health
  • relationships with others and living arrangements
  • the methods they have used to self-harm
  • how often they self-harm
  • any specific events or feelings that occur before they self-harm
  • any things they have tried to help reduce your self-harming
  • whether they think they will self-harm again
  • why they think they are self-harming

In  most cases, 'talking treatments' will be recommended, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which aims to give young people skills to think differently about their lives, and develop different responses to negative thoughts.