Study finds sharp rise in self-harm among teenage girls

In Ireland, peak rate for self-harm is 15-19 years for women and 20-24 years for men


There was a sharp rise in self-harm reported in general practices among girls aged 13-16 years from 2011 to 2014, compared with boys of the same age, according to a new study published by the British Medical Journal.

The analysis focused on almost 17,000 patients from the UK aged 10-19 years from 647 general practices, who harmed themselves during the period 2001-2014.

The rate of self-harm recorded in general practice was higher in girls (37.4 per 10,000) compared with boys (12.3 per 10,000) and rose by 68 per cent in girls aged 13 to 16.

Researchers said the high self-harm rate may be due to “common mental health problems in females at this age”, as well as biological factors such puberty and the onset of sexual activity.

In Ireland, the rate of hospital-treated self-harm is highest among young people. In 2016, the peak rate for women was in the 15-19 years age group at 763 per 100,000 whereas the peak rate among men was in 20-24 year olds at 516 per 100,000.

“These rates imply that one in every 131 girls in the age group 15-19 and one in every 194 men in the age group 20-24 presented to hospital in 2016 as a consequence of self-harm,” the HSE said. It also said that, between 2011 and 2013, there were “successive decreases” in the self-harm rate in Ireland.

The National Self-Harm Registry Ireland recorded 11,485 presentations to hospital due to self-harm involving 8,909 individuals last year.

“An essentially unchanged rate in 2016 indicates a further stabilisation of the rate of self-harm in Ireland since 2013. However, the rate in 2016 was still 10 per cent higher than in 2007, the year before the economic recession. In particular, the rate of self-harm in women aged 15-24 years significantly increased between 2008 and 2012,” a spokeswoman for the HSE said.

The study found referrals to specialist mental health services within 12 months of self-harming were 23 per cent less likely for young patients registered in practices in the most deprived areas even though the rates of self-harm were higher in these areas.

The HSE said there is a “well-established link between deprivation and self-harm” with the highest rates of self-harm recorded in areas with high deprivation and social fragmentation.

Lead researcher Dr Cathy Morgan from the University of Manchester and her team investigated trends in self-harm amongst children and teenagers in the UK, referral rates to specialist mental health services and mortality rates amongst children and teenagers following self-harm.

Unlike other previous studies, the researchers examined self-harm recorded in general practices rather than hospital settings. The report said there is some evidence indicating that some mental health disorders are becoming more common within the 13 to 16 age group.

“Perhaps a reflection that today’s early adolescents are living in more stressful times,” the authors said. “Exposure to digital media and its potential impact on children and adolescents’ mental health is the centre of continued media debate.

“Of course such technologies can be helpful and facilitate access to care, but there is also a suggestion that extreme ‘connectedness’ could have detrimental effects.”

On Thursday, the High Court in Dublin granted an application to make a teenager, with a history of self-harm and suicide attempts, a ward of court.

The president of the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Kelly, granted an application after finding she lacked capacity to make appropriate decisions concerning her health and welfare.