Teenage girls more likely to self-harm than boys

October 18, 2017, British Medical Journal
Credit: Jourden C/public domain

There has been a sharp rise in self-harm reported in general practices for girls aged between 13-16 years from 2011 to 2014, compared with boys of the same age. In socially deprived areas, referrals to mental health specialist services were fewer, although self-harm rates were higher, finds a study published by The BMJ today.

Self-harm in and adolescents is a major public problem in many countries. It is the strongest risk factor for subsequent suicide, with suicide being the second most common cause of death before reaching the age of 25 worldwide.

Lead researcher, Dr Cathy Morgan at The University of Manchester, and the team set out to investigate trends in amongst children and teenagers in the UK, referral rates to specialist , and mortality rates amongst children and teenagers following self-harm. Unlike most previous studies, the researchers examined self-harm recorded in general practice rather than hospital settings.

To estimate rates of self-harm, they analysed data for 16,912 patients aged between 10-19 years from 647 , who harmed themselves during 2001 to 2014. To assess mortality, they compared data from 8,638 of these patients with 170,274 unaffected children (matched by age, gender and general practice).

They found that the rate of self-harm recorded in general practice was higher in girls (37.4 per 10,000) compared with boys (12.3 per 10,000), and rose by 68% in girls aged 13 to 16, from 45.9 per 10,000 in 2011 to 77.0 per 10,000 in 2014.

Referrals to specialist mental health services within 12 months of self-harming were 23% less likely for young patients registered in practices in the most deprived areas even though the rates of self-harm were higher in these areas.

Children and teenagers who self-harmed were nine times more likely to die unnaturally than unaffected children, with an especially marked increased risk of suicide and acute alcohol/drug poisoning death. "This emphasises the opportunity for earlier intervention in primary care to reduce suicide risk" say the authors.

The researchers say that the high self-harm rate may be due to common in females at this age, as well as biological factors such as puberty and onset of sexual activity.

There is some evidence indicating that common are becoming more common within this age group. "Perhaps a reflection that today's early adolescents are living in more stressful times", say the authors.

"Exposure to digital media and its potential impact on children and adolescents' mental health is the centre of continued media debate. Of course such technologies can be helpful and facilitate access to care but there is also a suggestion that extreme 'connectedness' could have detrimental effects", the authors continue.

However, the researchers outline some limitations in the study. Whilst they have used one of the largest primary healthcare datasets, like any routinely collected data there may be problems in identifying all cases, and a potential lack of detail, for example in recording method of self-harm.

Nevertheless, they conclude that "this marked apparent increase prompts the urgent need to identify the causes of this phenomenon." These risks "emphasise the urgent need for integrated care involving families, schools and healthcare provision to enhance safety among these distressed young people in the short term, and to help secure their future and wellbeing."

Explore further: Children injured through drink or drugs at increased risk of suicide

More information: Incidence, clinical management, and mortality risk following self harm among children and adolescents: cohort study in primary care, BMJ (2017). www.bmj.com/content/357/bmj.j4351

Related Stories

Children injured through drink or drugs at increased risk of suicide

May 25, 2017
Teenagers injured through drinking, drug abuse or self-harming have a five-fold increased risk of dying from suicide in the next decade.

Suicide risk for older people who self-harm

May 2, 2012
Older people who self-harm are at much greater risk of suicide than both the general population and younger adults who self-harm, a new study has found. Researchers from The University of Manchester studied 1,177 people over ...

Twenty-year outcomes in adolescents who self-harm show worrying levels of substance abuse by age 35

July 11, 2017
A study by researchers from the Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI) that followed a sample of almost 2000 Victorian school children from the age of 14 until the age of 35 found that social disadvantage, anxiety, ...

Mental health visits spike prior to burn injury, indicating opportunity for intervention

July 31, 2017
In a new study examining the relationship between mental health and burn injury, researchers note that burn injuries may be preventable through increased access to high-quality mental health care. The study's findings also ...

Hospital self-harm cases have steadily risen among men in England since 2008

April 28, 2016
The number of hospital cases of self-inflicted harm, such as cutting and overdosing on prescription meds, has risen steadily since 2008 in England among men, reveals research published in the online journal BMJ Open.

1 in 12 teenagers self-harm but most stop by their twenties

November 18, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Despite self-harm being one of the strongest predictors of completed suicide, 90% of young people who self-harm as adolescents cease self-harming once they reach young adulthood. However, those who start ...

Recommended for you

Sensitive babies become altruistic toddlers

September 25, 2018
Our responsiveness to seeing others in distress accounts for variability in helping behavior from early in development, according to a study published September 25 in the open-access journal PLOS Biology by Tobias Grossmann ...

Evidence that increased BMI causes lower mental wellbeing

September 25, 2018
There is an increasing need to prevent obesity because of the consequences for mental as well as physical health, new research by academics at the University of Bristol has found.

Insomnia symptoms, overall health improve with online insomnia program

September 25, 2018
Treating insomnia with digital programs can improve insomnia symptoms, daytime functioning and overall health, a new study from the University of Oxford and Northwestern Medicine has found.

Researchers reveal link between hunger and mood, new study

September 25, 2018
It seems "hangry" isn't just a made-up term.

Baby sleeping in the parental bedroom not related to later behavioural problems

September 25, 2018
Sleeping in the parental bedroom as a baby is not related to sleeping problems or behavioural problems later in life. Moreover, there are indications that room-sharing may even be related to positive outcomes, such as improved ...

Gender 'nonconformity' takes mental toll on teens

September 25, 2018
(HealthDay)—American teens whose behavior, appearance or lifestyle do not conform to widely held views on what it is to be a "normal" male or female face a high risk for mental distress and drug abuse, new research warns.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.