Journal scan

Sharp rise in self-harm among teenage girls

Teenage girls are more likely to self-harm than boys, possibly due to factors such as puberty and the onset of sexual activity, researchers say.

A significant increase in the incidence of self-harm among teenage girls has been uncovered by a study involving thousands of young people.

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A team of University of Manchester scientists examined data from 674 GP clinics involving 16,912 patients aged 10-19 who self-harmed during 2001-2014.

To assess mortality they compared the records of 8,638 of the patients with 170,274 unaffected children.

The overall rate of self-harm was 37.4 per 10,000 for girls, while among those aged 13-16 it had risen from 45.9 per 10,000 in 2011 to 77.0 in 2014.

The overall rate for boys was 12.3 per 10,000.


Referrals to specialist mental health services within 12 months of self-harming were 23% less likely for young patients registered in practices in the most deprived areas, even though rates of self-harm were higher in these districts.

The authors suggested the high rate among girls could be explained by biological factors such as puberty and the onset of sexual activity.

Writing in the BMJ, lead author Cathy Morgan acknowledged there was also ‘continued media debate’ about exposure to digital media and adolescent mental health.

She added: ‘Such technologies can be helpful and facilitate access to care but there is also a suggestion that extreme connectedness could have detrimental effects.’

Morgan C et al (2017) Incidence, clinical management, and mortality risk following self harm among children and adolescents: cohort study in primary care. BMJ. doi: org/10.1136/bmj.j4351

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