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​Better primary care services needed to curb self-harm in young people

Improved primary care services need to be offered to young people to reduce the rate of non-suicidal self-harm in this age group, a study has urged.

Non-suicidal self-harm rates have soared since 2014, according to the research, especially in young women, leading to researchers suggesting that better primary care services are needed to help people cope with emotional distress.

The study, published in the Lancet and carried out by UK researchers, analysed data from just over 20,000 patients aged between 16 and 74 who participated in psychiatric surveys between 2000 and 2014.

They found that the lifetime prevalence of non-suicidal self-harm rose from 2.4% in 2000 to 6.4% in 2014. Prevalence was highest in 16-24-year-olds girls, increasing to nearly 20% in 2014 from 6.5% in 2000.

They also found that in 2014, almost two-thirds of those who engaged in non-suicidal self-harm had no subsequent contact with medical services, with men even less likely than women to have contact with medical care.

The authors said that the increase in self-harm could be due to more people using it as a way to cope with emotional distress.

They said in the paper: ‘If self-harm is increasing among young people partly because it is thought of as a way of coping with emotional stress, there could be serious long-term public health implications, including normalisation of self-harm and potential increases in suicide rates.

‘Better primary care and educational services need to be offered, and self-harm needs to be discussed in a way that helps young people to find safer ways of coping.’

Prime Minister Theresa May heralded 'proper funding' for mental health as one of her major achievements in office in her resignation speech last month.

Readers' comments (10)

  • Would be nice to have a CAMhs system that actually functions.

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  • please-delete-this-fucking-profile-i-cant-delete-it-in-my-account-settings

    i completely disagree - do they have evidence that attending primary care helps? this is undoubtedly an issue, but primary care has almost zero resources to deal with this , we can sign post to the local under 25 mental
    health hub if there is one but from
    experience what you get is a worried parent with a teenager producing vague scratches to their arms, almost proudly telling you the are 'cutting themselves' looking at you like you are magically going to 'fix' this for them, all prefixed with statements about 'nobody is helping' This is a societal issue and does not need to be further medicalised, unless you want army's of confused 16 year olds being put on prozac , which increasingly seems to be the response
    - this isn't a medical issue it's a social one

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  • Knut Schroeder

    Hope it's okay to mention this here: in case anyone is interested, we've developed a self-harm support app called 'distrACT' which is NHS England Information Standard certified and listed on the new NHS Apps Library. It's free to download for anyone, has information, tips and advice for people who self-harm and signposts to trusted sources of support (including non-NHS, such as useful websites and national charities).

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  • Knut Schroeder

    p.s.: Here's the link to the NHS Apps Library - https://www.nhs.uk/apps-library/distract/

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  • Thois is a straight case of overmedicalisation. There IS a massive increase in use of self-harm to 'cope' with emotional distress. The result needs maybe some corrective attention from Public Health (not just GPs again), but it is more important to tackle the underling causes, than the symptoms!
    I am not even sure if it is Public Health responsibility, but it is maybe up to them to ensure pressure is put on the EDUCATION system to deal with THEIR problem in failing to provide a wholistic scholastic system that allows this deviant coping mechanism to take root at the very earliest stages.
    And, yes, it might be useful if there was CAMHS services available to patinets.

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  • I am a psychiatrist and totally agree that this is a societal public health issue and resources should be diverted to tackling the underlying causes.
    Too much trying to put out fire stuff going on. It’s too late by that point.

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  • Put the resources into schools, where the young people are. Keep them away from prescribers!

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  • This is a social issue in the main, not a medical issue...more blame should be placed on government and its failed socialist policies than on already underfunded and stretched medical services.

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  • Is this satire?

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  • Responding to locum x, 95-97% of current "mental health issues" are nonmedical. GPs should be least best positioned for these problems if I had my way

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