Thousands of children self-harming in mental crisis

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A shocking number of children are self-harming because of a mental health crisis which is being worsened by a lack of funding for support services, a charity has said.

The Government is being urged to ease a budget shortfall facing council children’s services after an annual report by the Children’s Society found that around one in four 14-year-old girls are self-harming.

The charity has estimated that almost 110,000 14-year-olds may have self-harmed around the UK in a 12-month period, including 76,000 girls and 33,000 boys. A survey of 11,000 children found that overall, one in six reported having self-harmed at that age.

In the Yorkshire and Humber region 6,320 14-year-old girls and 2,720 boys a may have self-harmed, the report found.

Children’s Society Chief Executive Matthew Reed said local authority children’s services faced a £2bn funding gap by 2020.

He said: “It is deeply worrying that so many children are unhappy to the extent that they are self-harming.

“Worries about how they look are a big issue, especially for girls, but this report shows other factors such as how they feel about their sexuality and gender stereotypes may be linked to their unhappiness.”

The report found that almost half of 14-year-olds who were attracted to people of the same gender or both genders said they had self-harmed.

Four in ten had shown signs of depression and three in ten had low well-being, compared to 11 per cent of all children, the Children’s Society said.

In the report one young person said: “I felt like self-harming was what I wanted to do and had to do as there was nothing else I could do.

“I think there is help for young people but not the right kind of help.

“Feeling not pretty enough or good enough as other girls did contribute towards my self-harming, however, I don’t feel just being a girl is the reason as I think boys feel the same way too.”

Roy Perry, who chairs the Local Government Association children and young people board, said children’s services budget gap would be as high as £3bn by 2025.

He said: “This is why we are calling for councils and schools to be given the funding to offer independent mental health counselling so pupils have access to support as and when they need it.

“Many councils are being forced to cut early intervention work, including youth services, which helps children avoid reaching crisis point, perform better at school and avoid mental health issues in later life.”

“We need to develop a system that says yes, rather than no, to children when they ask for help.”

Dr Max Davie, Officer for Health Promotion for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said more education about physical appearance, gender stereotypes and sexuality was desperately needed as part of sex education. He said: This country’s mental health crisis is not going to go away overnight, but with appropriate action from the Government, there is hope that fewer children will have mental health worries and be happier with their life as a result.”

The Good Childhood Report draws on the Children’s Society’s annual survey of 10 to 17-year-olds and parents from 2,000 households in England, Scotland and Wales. It also uses figures from the Millennium Cohort Survey, which follows the lives of children born in the UK in 2000-01.

The Department for Health is yet to comment.