New research shows 14% of teenagers in
Scotland have self-harmed – and a further 14% have thought
seriously about doing so.
research, published in the January issue of the British
Journal of Psychiatry, is the first-ever study to examine the
prevalence of adolescent self-harm in Scotland. The results show
that the prevalence of self-harm in Scotland is similar to that in
England. This is despite the suicide rate in Scotland being twice
as high as in England.
A total of 2008 pupils aged 15-16 years old
completed an anonymous questionnaire. The pupils all attended
secondary schools in Glasgow and Stirling. Self-harm was recorded
if they answered ‘yes’ to the question: “Have you ever deliberately
taken an overdose (e.g. pills or other medication) or tried to harm
yourself in some other way (such as cut yourself)?”
Self-harm was reported by 13.8% of the
teenagers. The majority (71%) of those who had self-harmed had done
so in the past 12 months, and girls were 3.4 times more likely to
have self-harmed than boys. A further 14.4% of the adolescents said
they had thought seriously about self-harming, but had not done so.
Again, girls were more likely to have thought about taking an
overdose or trying to harm themselves than boys.
The most common motive given for self-harm was
‘to get relief from a terrible state of mind’. Almost four in ten
(37.6%) of the teenagers reported that they wanted to die.
Although it is not possible to determine what
causes young people to self-harm from this study, the researchers
found that a number of factors were associated with it. For both
girls and boys, smoking, bullying, worries about sexual
orientation, self-harm by family members, and anxiety were all
associated with self-harm. In addition, drug use, physical abuse,
serious boy/girlfriend problems, self-harm by friends and low
levels of optimism were associated with self-harm in girls.
Writing in the British Journal of
Psychiatry, the researchers said: “The findings suggest a role
for emotional literacy programmes in schools, and highlight the
importance of promoting positive mental health among
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O’Connor RC, Rasmussen S, Miles J and Hawton K (2009) Self-harm in adolescents: self-report survey in schools in Scotland, British Journal of Psychiatry, 194: 68-72