Study reports dramatic rise in self-harm among teenage girls

Posted on 19 October 2017

A recent study using anonymised data from 600 general practices has found a 68% rise in reports of self-harm in girls aged between 13 and 16, from 2011 and 2014. The rate of teenage girls reporting self-harm was considerably greater than boys. Despite this rise in self-harm, referral to mental health specialist services was lower, especially in socially deprived areas.  

Self-harm in children and adolescents is a major public health concern in many countries. Worldwide, suicide is known to be the second most common cause of death before reaching the age of 25. This study showed that children and teenagers were nine times more likely to die unnaturally if they had previously reported self-harm.

Researchers from the University of Manchester and Keele University set out to investigate the trends in self-harm amongst children and teenagers in the UK, referral rates to mental health specialists, and mortality rates amongst children and teenagers following self-harm.

Data was analysed from 16,912 patients aged between 10-19 years who had harmed themselves during 2001 and 2014.

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

Professor Carolyn Chew-Graham, Professor of General Practice Research at Keele's Research Institute of Primary Care and Health Sciences, provided the team with a GP’s perspective. Professor Chew-Graham commented:

“Although we can’t fully explain this rapid increase in self-harm among young girls, it may be due to an increase in common mental health problems in females at this age, as well as biological factors such as puberty and the onset of sexual activity. This study emphasises the opportunity for earlier intervention in primary care to reduce suicide risk, and demonstrate the need to integrate care that involves families, schools, health care providers and the voluntary sector to enhance safety among these patients, and also secure their future mental health and wellbeing.”

Professor Chew-Graham has worked with the research team on a number of studies using the UK Clinical Practice Datalink to describe the epidemiology of self-harm in primary care, which links to the Mental Health Research Programme at Keele University.

The study, which was funded by the National Institute for Health Research, through the Patient Safety Translational Research Centre has been published in the British Medical Journal today.