One in 12 teenagers self-harm

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One in 12 teenagers self-harm, and statistics are even worse for girls, a study by the Lancet has found.

Ten per cent of girls admitted to self-harming, compared to six per cent of boys, and are at greater risk of continuing as young adults.

Psychiatrists from King's College London took part in the long-term research which monitored a group of young people from Victoria, Australia, from 1992 to 2008.

The average age of the 1,802 participants at the start of the study was 15, and they were repeatedly surveying over a period of 15 years.

Of this group, 10 per cent of girls and 6 per cent of boys reported self-harm. Cutting and burning were the most common forms of injury, and anxiety, depression, heavy alcohol use, cigarette smoking and cannabis use were all associated with self-harm.

The Lancet study findings have important implications for the treatment of mental health issues and prevention of suicide in young adults.

Dr Paul Moran, from King's College, and his co-authors wrote in an online edition of The Lancet medical journal: "Our findings suggest that most adolescent self-harming behaviour resolves spontaneously.
'However, young people who self-harm often have mental health problems that might not resolve without treatment, as evident in the strong relation detected between adolescent anxiety and depression and an increased risk of self harm in young adulthood."

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of mental health charity Sane, said: "This research reveals the disturbing numbers of people who self-harm.

"But the figures showing that 90 per cent have stopped by the time they reach their twenties should not seduce us into thinking that self-harm is just a phase that young people will grow out of.

"Sadly our own experience, echoed by many other studies, shows that there has been an alarming increase in the numbers of those who self-harm and the severity of their injuries.

"Our research shows that counter to common perception, people self-harm and continue to self-harm at times throughout their lives to protect themselves from attempting suicide and their families and friends from experiencing their mental pain."

Sue Minto, Head of ChildLine which last year dealt with 30,000 calls about self-harm, suicide and depression, said: "In cases of self-harm it is vital to discover what is driving the child to take such drastic action.

"Something is obviously making them extremely unhappy or frightened and until this is resolved it is likely they will continue to injure themselves or, in extreme cases, be driven to suicide".

Professor Keith Hawton, director of the Centre for Suicide Research at Oxford University, said the findings could broaden the focus of the Suicide Prevention Strategy for England, which he is working on.

"We now know from studies like this one that there is a very large population of youngsters who are self-harming in the community. And we estimate about one in eight of them go to hospital. So this is the hidden population," he said.

"Though a focus on hospital management is crucial, what we should perhaps be thinking more of is the management of self-harm at a community level, particularly how schools respond and how families can be helped to respond," he said.

The authors say it is important that people living or working with young people are able to spot signs of distress and find the help they deserve.

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