29/08/2006

One in ten teenage girls 'have self-harmed'

One in ten teenage girls self-harm each year, a new study has found.

The study - the largest ever into self-harm among 15 and 16-year-olds in England - was conducted by researchers from Bath and Oxford universities.

More than 6,000 15 and 16-year-olds were questioned and researchers found that girls were four times more likely to have deliberately self-harmed than boys, with 11% of girls reporting that they had self-harmed in the last year, compared to 3% of boys.

Dr Karen Rodham, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath said: "The study shows that deliberate self-harm is common amongst teenagers in England, especially in girls who are four times more likely to self-harm than boys.

"Until now, most studies of deliberate self-harm in adolescents in the UK have been based on the cases that reach hospital.

"We have now found that the true extent of self-harm in England is significantly wider than that."

The study revealed that self-cutting was the most prevalent form of self-harm, with 64.5% of those who self-harmed admitting to harming themselves in this way.

The research took place in 41 schools in Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire and Birmingham in 2000 and 2001.

Pupils were asked to complete a 30 minute questionnaire which explored issues surrounding self-harm and suicidal thinking - together with other personal factors such as depression, anxiety, impulsivity and self-esteem.

Researchers found that there was an incremental increase in deliberate self-harm with increased consumption of cigarettes or alcohol, as well as all categories of drug use.

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

Pupils of either sex who had recently been worried about their sexual orientation also had relatively higher rates of self-harm.

Of those with a history of deliberate self-harm, 20% reported that no-one knew about it, while 40% said that they had not talked to anyone about it or tried to get help.

Professor Keith Hawton from the Centre for Suicide Research at the University of Oxford, said: "This study provides more information about why young people engage in deliberate self-harm and helps us to recognise those at risk, to develop explanatory models and to design effective prevention programmes.

"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 a risk of suicide.

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

The research, which was carried out with the Samaritans, has been published in the new book 'By their own young hand', which includes practical advice for teachers on how to detect young people at risk of self-harming.

(KMcA)

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