Adolescent self-harm often goes unreported

Adolescent self-harm often goes unreported. Serious self-harm (which includes suicide attempts and self-cutting) is one of the top five causes of acute medical admission to hospital, and it is young people aged 16-24 who have the highest admission rates.

Studies have found around 10 per cent of young people self-harm at some point, but few of them reach an Accident and Emergency Unit.

Dr Jane Hurry and Dr Pamela Storey at the Thomas Coram Research Unit at the Institute of Education, University of London presented their findings at the British Psychological Society’s Developmental Section Conference at Leeds Metropolitan University.

They surveyed case notes from a representative sample of A&E departments in England, focusing on patients aged between 12 and 24 years. To find out more about the problems associated with self-harm, in collaboration with colleagues from Leeds School of Medicine, they also interviewed 70 adolescents who had harmed themselves.

When young people come to hospital following self-harm their physical symptoms are expertly dealt with but questions remain about what is done for their psychological difficulties. The researchers were interested in the nature and severity of these problems. Many of the young people interviewed had a history of self-harm, the extent of which was often unknown to medical services. This is a problem because repeated self-harm is a risk factor for more serious self-harm and suicide.

Many of the young people who self-harmed had dropped out of school, were unemployed or having problems with their living arrangements. Around half of the under-19-year-olds were not living with their parents, and a significant number had spent some time living in care. The authors argue that these problems need to be addressed in any provision of services for adolescents who self-harm.

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