The number of pupils who cut, burn or hurt themselves in another way has been rising sharply in recent years. NHS figures show there were 28,730 admissions in England for self-harm among 10 to 19 year olds in the year to March 2014 compared with 22,978 the year before. However this is likely to be the tip of the iceberg as many more youngsters who harm themselves do not end up in hospital.
Spending cuts to community-based “intermediate” mental health services mean schools are increasingly the first port of call for children, but many are ill-equipped to cope, according to the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.
The explosion of social media use among this age group is thought to be instrumental in increasing the number who self-harm as it increases the stress on teenagers to live up to impossible ideals. Bullying, stress from exams at school and pressure on girls to have sex are also thought to be contributory factors.
Heads in the private school sector have also warned about the spread of self harm.
Richard Harman, the headmaster of Uppingham, one of Britain’s leading co-educational boarding schools, and chair of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses Conference, says that young people’s mental health was his main current concern.
The incidence of mental illness among teenagers appeared to be rising, manifest in eating disorders, self-harm and abuse of supplements to “bulk up” in the gym.
“From an early age kids are bombarded with images of what it looks like to be apparently perfect,” he said. “If you add all those up, this is a different kind of pressure than really can ever have been the place in the past and [it] doesn’t really have any borders,” he said.
Sarah Brennan, chief executive of the YoungMinds charity, said cuts and efficiency savings were harming our children and young people by reducing the help available for them, especially early on where it is vital to prevent problems escalating.
“Schools are in the frontline and staff understand when their pupils are troubled, but are too often at a loss to know what to do or how to help for the best and (mental health services) are not available for advice or support for them either,” she said.
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