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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 March, 2004, 07:26 GMT 08:26 UK
Inquiry examines self-harm rates
The UK has the highest self-harm rates in Europe
A national inquiry to examine rising rates of self-harm among young people is due to be launched.

The UK has the highest self-harm rates in Europe. One in 10 teenagers deliberately hurts themselves and 24,000 are admitted to hospital each year.

The inquiry, organised by the Mental Health Foundation and the Camelot Foundation, will examine why the numbers are so high.

The two-year inquiry will be chaired by Catherine McLoughlin CBE.

She is a former deputy chief nursing officer and current chairwoman of the Nurses' Welfare Service.

High rates

Rates of self-harm in the UK have increased sharply over the past decade.

The most common method of self-harm involves repeatedly cutting the skin, but others include burning, scalding, hitting or scratching, hair pulling or swallowing small amounts of toxic substances to cause discomfort or damage.

The task facing us is to understand why more young people seem to be harming themselves
Catherine McLoughlin,
Inquiry chairwoman
The average age for children starting to self-harming is 13 years old, but children as young as seven have been found to self-harm.

Certain groups of young people are more susceptible to self-harming, such as young Asian women and young female prisoners.

Whilst young women outnumber young men in the ratio of seven to one, rates of self-harm among young men and boys have almost doubled since the 1980s.

"Self-harm among young people is an issue that is much-debated, but we lack a proper understanding of it, and have a limited capacity to respond effectively in the areas of policy and services," said Ms McLoughlin.

"The task facing us is to understand why more young people seem to be harming themselves, how we can engage with them, and above all, what we can do to help."


Susan Elizabeth, director of the Camelot Foundation said the stress of modern life was often thought to blame.

She told BBC Breakfast: "It seems the more stresses that young people have in their lives the more it seems they are turning to self-harm as a way of dealing with those stresses."

She said the inquiry would take the views of young people into account.

"One of our key priorities for the national inquiry is that it should reflect the views and experience of young people who self-harm.

"To achieve this, we will be consulting regularly with five sites across the UK, where groups of young people who self-harm already meet."

it was only when I looked on the internet and had private counselling that I started to improve
Katie Foulser

Katie Foulser, 20, used to cut herself up to 10 times a day.

She has since set up the Self Harm Alliance to provide a resource for other young people.

"There was little help available," she said. "I went to my GP and she was quite supportive. But it was only when I looked on the internet and had private counselling that I started to improve."

Dr Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said: "The increase in self-harm is one of a number of indicators in the mental health field that show something is wrong.

"It may be visible evidence of growing problems facing our young people, or of a growing inability to respond to those problems.

"There is a desire across the health and social care spectrum to develop appropriate responses, but the evidence base is limited. Self-harm is a complex issue, and our inquiry will have to be broad in its outlook."

'I cut myself with knives'
26 Mar 03  |  Health
Girls 'more likely to self-harm'
22 Mar 04  |  Health
Teenage self-harm widespread
26 Mar 03  |  Health

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