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More than one fifth of 14-year-old girls self harm, survey finds

Over one fifth of girls from across the UK have reported self-harming when they were 14 years old, according to a think tank.

The Children’s Society’s analysis of the Millennium Cohort Survey revealed one in six, of the 11,144 children questioned, self-harmed at age 14. Split by gender, 22% of the girls and 9% of the boys said they self-harmed at that age.

Based on these figures, the think tank estimates that across the UK approximately 110,000 14-year-olds have self-harmed in the last year.

The news comes as the Government announced the trial of a new four-week waiting time standard for GP referrals of children and young people to mental health treatment.

The survey, which follows the lives of children born in the UK in 2000/01 and was last carried out in 2015, asked 5,520 boys and 5,624 girls whether they had hurt themselves on purpose in any way in the past year, when they were 14.

The report also found that ‘children who were attracted to children of the same gender or both genders were much more likely to self-harm’, with half of these children having done so.

Household income was also a significant predictor of self-harm, with children from lower-income households more at risk of self-harming.

The Children’s Society chief executive Matthew Reed said the findings are ‘deeply worrying’.

‘Worries about how they look are a big issue, especially for girls, but this report shows other factors such as how they feel about their sexuality and gender stereotypes may be linked to their unhappiness,’ he added.

BMA consultants committee deputy chair Dr Gary Wannan, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, said: ‘Better funded mental health services that match the increasing burden of mental ill-health are what these children deserve, and this study shows how the Government’s failure to address the ongoing problem with children and adolescent mental health services leave many feeling they have no choice but to harm themselves to cope.’ 

He added that both schools and NHS services ‘must be equally and urgently funded to ensure CAMHS has universal reach’.

Child and adolescent mental health services in England 

In 2015, it was reported that NHS spending on child and adolescent mental health services had fallen 6% in real terms since 2009/10, with almost £50m less spent on Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in 2012/13 than in 2009/10.

GPs then raised concerns in a 2016 Pulse survey, which found the majority of GPs felt they have to diagnose child and adolescent mental health disorders ‘above their level of competence’ due to a marked deterioration in access to specialist services.

Following this, Pulse revealed an increasing number of vulnerable children were being refused vital mental health treatment despite it being recommended by their GP. In figures obtained from 15 mental health trusts, it was shown that 60% of GP referrals to CAMHS led to no treatment and a third were not even assessed.

Pulse later found that five areas in England were planning to cut spending on mental health services in 2017/18, despite being told by NHS England  to increase spending in line with physical health spending.

This year, the Government has announced a new £25m three-year investment programme for eight communities worst affected by suicide across England, which aims to improve suicide prevention strategies and help drive better surveillance and collection of data on suicide, attempted suicide, and self-harm.