Number of Pre-Teens Self-Harming Doubles in Six Years

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The number of children aged nine to 12 self-harming in the UK has doubled in just six years, with indications that mental health problems are increasing amongst the very young.

According to BBC Radio 4’s File on 4 programme, the number of pre-teens attending hospital after intentionally injuring themselves rose from 221 in 2013-14 to 508 in 2019-20. With population growth factored in, it results in a rate of self-harm for this age-range having doubled.

Professor Keith Hawton, a specialist in suicide and self-harm at the University of Oxford’s School of Psychiatry, observed that it appeared “as though the problem is spreading down the age range somewhat”.

“I do think it’s important that it’s recognised that self-harm can occur in relatively young children, which many people are surprised by. I think it indicates that mental health issues are perhaps increasing in this very young age range,” Professor Hawton said, according to The Guardian which previewed the episode “Surviving Self Harm”, due to be aired on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday night.

Unclear of why precisely there had been this rise, Professor Hawton observed that there had been an increase in mental health problems in children, “and there’s been a particular increase in anxiety disorders, particularly in females, and also eating disorders, which are quite closely associated with self-harm, including self-injury”.

Self-harm — defined as including cutting and poisoning, such as overdosing — was found by the BBC to be twice as prevalent amongst girls as boys in the age group. Around ten pre-teens are presenting at hospital every week with signs of self-harm.

The broadcaster also revealed a doubling in admissions for the higher age group, 13 to 17, in seven years.

Last week, a London psychiatrist said he was in no doubt that lockdown was to blame for the surge in mental health referrals in children, pinpointing the closure of schools and the banning of socialisation and team sports.

“One can only say the major factor across it all is pandemic — the lack of activities, the lack of schooling, the lack of opportunities for these young people and probably a deterioration of wellbeing of their parents not being able to cope,” Dr Omer Moghraby had said.

Dr John Wright of Bradford Royal Infirmary wrote earlier this month that the frequency of children presenting at Accident and Emergency experiencing a mental health issue had gone from once to twice a week before the lockdowns to once to twice a day. He added that self-harm was observed more and more frequently in pre-teens.

Child behaviour expert Elizabeth O’Shea predicted in January a “mental health ticking time bomb” amongst the young because of lockdowns, including a rise in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), depression, and anxiety.

An October investigation by The Guardian found that since the beginning of the pandemic there had been a 30 per cent increase in children being prescribed medication for sleep disorders, compared to two years ago. Charities and other organisations had told the newspaper they had seen rises in eating disorders and self-harm amongst children.

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