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Study reveals ‘desperate situation’ of self-harm among teenagers

Written by on 20th November 2020

More than a quarter of teenage girls have self-harmed by the age of 17, according to an “alarming” new study into teenage mental health.

Researchers at University College London Social Research Institute surveyed 10,000 young people in the period 2018-2019.
Their study found 28% of girls and 20% of boys reported self-harming at some point in the previous year, when all study members were aged 17.
Of that number, 10% of girls and 4% of boys had self-harmed with suicidal intent.


“The finding that one in 15 had self-harmed with suicidal intent is alarming,” report co-author professor Emla Fitzsimons said.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has since occurred, and the additional pressure this brings to bear on a generation already facing major mental health issues is hugely concerning.”


UCL’s Millennium Cohort Study has followed the same group of 10,000 people since they were born in 2000.
In this latest survey, subjects were able to report their sexual identity for the first time.


Researchers found that LGBT+ teenagers were twice as likely to self-harm than their heterosexual peers.
Self-harm rates were more prevalent among white teenagers than those from other ethnic backgrounds.
The team was also able to compare rates of psychological distress between this generation and others.
“Just in 10 years, the prevalence of a high level of depressive symptoms has doubled,” said Praveetha Patalay, the report’s co-author.
“Similarly for self-harm, if you just compare one generation prior, rates are much higher today than they were a generation ago. 10 years is a very short amount of time, things shouldn’t be doubling in 10 years.”
“I dread to think what rates will be in another 10 years.”


Ruth Fox started self-harming at 17.
“Self-harm was one of those coping mechanisms that I just used as a way of controlling how I was feeling,” Ruth said.
“Sometimes you feel like you need to have control over something in your life because you feel like everything in your life has got out of control.”
Now 21, Ruth has had therapy to help her manage her mental health and says that “consistency and continuity” of care is key to helping people “dealing with a crisis”.


Leading children’s charities agree.
“The levels of anguish indicated in this report show the desperate situation that many 17-year-olds face, even before the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Anna Feuchtwang, chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau
“These findings remind us that we should all be vigilant for young people in mental distress, listen to their concerns and signpost them to the sources of specialist support available.”


Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org in the UK. In the US, call the Samaritans branch in your area or 1 (800) 273-TALK