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46% self-harm rate among UK gay or bisexual teens is huge problem, says RCN

Children's Society survey analysis prompts urgent calls for action and presents new challenge for nurses

Children's Society survey analysis prompts urgent calls for action and presents new challenge for nurses

Teen self-harm
The Children's Society estimates that almost 110,000 children aged 14 may have self-harmed
across the UK in 2015. Picture: iStock

Almost half of gay or bisexual 14-year-olds self-harm according to new analysis, prompting calls for nurses to consider the social pressures that stop young people from seeking help.

The statistic comes from analysis by the Children's Society of data collected by the Millennium Cohort Survey, which is following the lives of more than 19,500 children born in the UK at the turn of the century.

The analysis also reveals almost one quarter of 14-year-old girls and one in ten 14-year-old boys in the UK self-harm.

Need help?

  • For help in dealing with suicidal thoughts contact the Samaritans’ free helpline on 116 123 or visit NHS Choices: Help for Suicidal Thoughts
  • Children and young people can also contact Childline on 0800 1111 for help regarding self-harm 

The survey asked the 11,144 children if they had self-harmed when they were 14. Of the 620 young people who reported being gay or bisexual, 283 had self-harmed (46%). 

'Severe problem'

The Children's Society said its analysis of the survey data suggests 15.5% (1,727) of participants had self-harmed in 2015. 

Based on these figures, the society estimates almost 110,000 children aged 14 may have self-harmed across the UK during the same period.

RCN mental health forum chair Ed Freshwater said a 46% self-harm rate among gay or bisexual teenagers requires urgent action.

He urged nurses from all disciplines to consider how social pressures act as barriers to young people seeking help from professionals.

Nurses must advocate

Mr Freshwater cited body image issues for girls, and boys being trapped in a ‘Clint Eastwood idea of manliness’, discouraging them from expressing emotions, as two examples of social pressures affecting young people.

‘As nurses, we must advocate for those in our care, and that means challenging policies and practices that cause harm, be it social or traditional media, government policy, education, environment or law and order,’ he said.

The Children's Society chief executive Matthew Reed said: ‘It is deeply worrying that so many children are unhappy to the extent they are self-harming.

‘Early support for vulnerable children and families in the community is vital, and ministers must urgently address the £2 billion funding shortfall facing council children's services departments by 2020,’ he said.

The Millennium Cohort Survey is a long-running study by University College London’s Centre of Longitudinal Studies, and the next data from its ongoing survey will be available at the end of 2019.

Extra investment

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: 'We are investing an extra £300 million to provide more help in schools, which will include trained staff to provide faster support to children.                  

'We’ve extended a pilot scheme to deliver training in 20 more areas this year to improve links between 1,200 schools and their mental health services, and as part of our long-term plan for the NHS we will announce more on how we will improve mental health later this year.'

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