Teen self-harm figures in spotlight as mental health report says support "must remain priority"
PUBLISHED: 08:19 28 February 2019 | UPDATED: 09:13 01 March 2019
The number of young people in Suffolk self-harming shows why supporting children's mental health must be a priority.
After two years and almost 14,000 responses from Suffolk secondary school students, Healthwatch Suffolk published research with a huge insight into what is affecting the mental health and emotional wellbeing of children in the county.
Among the findings was the shocking statistic that 14% of children survey have or are currently self-harming, with another 14% answering “prefer not to say” to the survey.
Consistent themes of issues surrounding social media, self-esteem, body image, self-harm and cyberbullying were revealed in the comprehensive survey.
The report comes out as parents across the county report that their children have seen “Momo” - a frightening figure with bulging eyes associated with suicide - appearing in violent scenes in videos on YouTube or WhatsApp messages, encouraging people to self-harm.
What were the findings of the report?
• 14% of children and young people are currently, or have previously self-harmed. 14% said they would rather not say. Of those who said they have self-harmed, 63% are female.
• A quarter of female students aged 16 say they have self-harmed and 50% of those who do not identify as male or female have self-harmed.
• 38% of young people spend over four hours each day on social media. Almost half of female students had used social media as a way of escaping from negative feelings.
• 12% of young people had been bullied online within the last two months. The rate of online bullying was four times higher for those who are ‘limited a lot’ by a disability.
• More than half of girls and just under a quarter of boys worry about their body image “most or all of the time”. For girls age 16, over two thirds worry about their body image most or all of the time and, on average, those who worry about their body image had a lower wellbeing score compared to those who don’t worry about their body image.
• 28% have low self-esteem and the main reason for this was not liking the way they look.
• 39% said they had tried drugs or alcohol and 23% said it had led to a situation they now regret.
• 40% of children and young people spend most of their evenings alone in their rooms.
What changes have already been made to support Suffolk’s schoolchildren?
• All schools that took part have received a report helping them address gaps in their PHSE curriculum
• Some schools will be developing a campaign of awareness and support after the report highlighted the worrying scale of self-harm
• Organisations such as Suffolk Parent Carer Network, Suffolk Family Carers, Suffolk MIND, 4YP, Access Community Trust, Parents and Carers Together, Community Praxis, Green Light Trust, The MIX Stowmarket, Volunteering Matters, Lowestoft Rising and Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality have been assessed and more funding found for them after proving to have positive outcomes for young people in Suffolk
• The project has also enabled more children and young people to find support by signposting them to sources of help. This has included the new Suffolk Emotional Wellbeing Hub service. 80% of those involved said it was now easier to find information about wellbeing and emotional support
What do the experts say?
Healthwatch Suffolk chief Andy Yacoub Suffolk said: “The very fact that we have been invited to complete this work year on year shows that the wellbeing of our children and young people is being taken seriously by those with the power to bring about improvements to local support.
“Our findings show how essential it is that action continues to be taken to tackle the root causes of the problems children and young people face with their wellbeing and to support their mental health inside and outside of school.
“Ultimately, the aim must be to help our young people to become more resilient.
Mr Yacoub said that the data showed that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students suffer from lower levels of wellbeing, self-harm more and get bullied more, and that “addressing these concerns and developing a better offer of local support is very much a part of our ongoing conversations with commissioners and we hope to see improvements as a result.”
The data from the report is being used as evidence to inform submissions by Healthwatch Suffolk to government enquiries into LGBTQ+ people’s experiences of NHS and social care support and separately, sexual health services.
It has also formed a specific part of the new strategy for mental health support in east and west Suffolk.
Beth Mosley, a clinical psychologist and leader of the West Suffolk Delivering Mental Health in Schools Project, hopes this will help school make the targeted PSHE classes that meed the needs of the students.
“Taking part in this survey presents a great opportunity for schools talk more openly about mental health as well as providing vital information about the school population,” she said.
What advice is there around mental and emotional health?
The children’s charity, the NSPCC, has a list of signs that those concerned about a love one should look out for:
• Becoming withdrawn from friends and family
• Persistent low mood and unhappiness
• Tearfulness and irritability
• Worries that stop them from carrying out day to day tasks
• Sudden outbursts of anger directed at themselves or others
• Loss of interest in activities that they used to enjoy
• Problems eating or sleeping
Suffolk County Council’s Stay Safe Online webpage has a wealth of resources on how to stay safe online - links for parents and children point to websites to report offensive or criminal contents and how to apply parental controls to devices.
There are also resources on the council website with advice on how to apply privacy settings and parental controls on social media and online games.