Over half don’t seek help after self-harming

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There has been a rise in the number of people self-harming, but more than half do not seek medical or psychological help, a study has suggested.

The steepest rise in non-suicidal self-harm (NSSH) rates was seen in young women and girls, with almost one in five (19.7%) females aged 16-24 self-harming in 2014, up from 6.5% in 2000, according to research published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal.

The overall rate of self-reported NSSH among 16-74-year-olds increased from 2.4% in 2000 to 6.4% in 2014, according to analysis of data from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Surveys of the general population.

Many people who reported self-harming said they did so to relieve feelings of anger, tension, anxiety and depression: 6.8% of women and girls in 2014 said they self-harmed for these reasons, compared with 4% of men and boys.

Six in 10 (59.4%) who had self-harmed said they had not sought medical or psychological help, compared with 51.2% in 2000. Males and people aged 16-34 were the least likely to do so.

Lead researcher Dr Sally McManus, of the National Centre for Social Research, told the BBC that people needed to be offered safer, alternative ways of coping with feelings of anxiety or depression.

“We need to place the emphasis on prevention, and prevent self-harm becoming embedded as a way of coping with emotional stress,” she said.

The study, which was funded by NHS Digital, the Department of Health and Social Care and the National Institute for Health Research, suggested non-suicidal self-harm could have lifelong implications, such as increased suicide rates, if the behaviours are adopted as a long-term coping strategy.

It stated that there is a risk that self-harm will become “normalised” for young people, and called on health and other professionals to help teenagers and young adults find alternative ways of coping with difficult situations.

A survey commissioned by Mental Health First Aid England and Bauer Media earlier this year found workers are three times more likely to discuss their physical health over mental illness at work.

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