This week NHS figures revealed that self-harm among teenage girls in England has nearly doubled in the past two decades. Reports were printed across media.
Ellern Mede Medical Director, Dr Hind Al Khairulla said: “We recognise the tragedy these figures represent. A high proportion of eating disorder cases co-exist with self-harm behaviours. Hospital admissions for eating disorders have also risen. As a society, we have to make it easier for our young people to talk without fear about when they begin to feel they can’t cope so that we step in and support all aspects of their health.”
Here are the statistics: In 1997, just before the birth of today’s teens, hospital admissions for girls under 18 in England numbered 7,327 when under 15s were 24.5% of the UK population. Today, the most recent ONS population statistics show teens as a percentage of UK population have dropped to 18.9% – but hospital admissions for girls under 18 in England rose to 13,463 in 2017.
The statistics for boys under 18, conversely, have not changed much in that time – from 2,236 in 1997 to 2,332 in 2017. Experts caution that self-harm is an issue for boys and girls and perhaps among boys, it is more hidden.
Commentators on the news, from Childline to individual psychiatrists, point to rising teen pressures of the modern world with information and communication overload; pressure to succeed in studies; pressure to compete socially with unattainable role models and lifestyles; bullying that has gained intensity through social media. Everyone agrees the factors will vary. The common factor may be pressure. Perhaps it is that with more virtual talking online than ever before and at a faster pace, less and less of what is ‘real’ is rarely being expressed.
Nobody chooses harmful behavioural coping mechanisms. It may seem to the person that it is a choice – of a lesser evil than the inner pain and conflict they feel. We hear young people speak of experiencing relief from the behaviour they use when their anxieties are triggered.
Ellern Mede is hopeful that the significant funding Government is targeting to mental health leads in schools will reach young people and families with support and help to reverse this very tragic trend. As adults, we need to do everything we can to support children through their formative teen years.
As a society, we have to make it easier for our young people to talk without fear about self-harm and eating disorders. Let’s talk #teensupport