New figures uncovered by The New Day show children aged between one and five were among under-16s whose self-harming needed hospital treatment last year.
Extreme self harm among children is on the increase and last year led to dozens of youngsters who haven’t even started school being admitted to hospital.
Distressing new figures uncovered by The New Day show scores of children aged between one and five were among more than 12,000 under-16s whose self-harmingwas so severe they needed hospital treatment last year.
The data, from the Health and Social Care Information Centre, shows the number of troubled youngsters admitted to hospital in England for self-harming has soared by 76 per cent in the last five years, from 6,882 in 2009/10 to 12,119 in 2014/15.
The overwhelming majority of children were taken in because they had tried to poison themselves with drugs, alcohol, pesticides, household solvents and other toxic substances.
Some children had jumped from a height and others – including some aged between five and nine – had even tried to hang themselves.
Consultant psychologist Jane McCartney, who runs her own private practice in London, said: “Sadly there are some very lonely, unhappy, abused and anxious children out there who consider self-harming the only thing they can do.
Read more: Homeless mum tells of heartbreak of seeing her traumatised son self-harm. “For some it will be a coping mechanism for something that is going wrong in their life.For others, especially among very young children, it could be that they are hurting themselves because that is the only way they can get the attention of an adult.“There could be something terrible going on in their life involving abuse or neglect.
Nobody is taking any notice of them and so harming themselves is the only way they can get someone, maybe a teacher, to ask: ‘What’s going on here?’”
Child psychologist Lindsay Ip, who practises at London’s Private Therapy Clinic, said that self-harm among children under five was tragically no longer rare, adding that modern technology was partly to blame.She said: “Children today are more used to immediate gratification from technology and digital games than active, creative play in the outdoors and connection to humans and nature.
“This means they have less time to process and integrate experiences, which limits their capacity to cope with stress and other challenges.”
Lucie Russell, director of campaigns at the charity Young Minds, said mental health services for children and young people needed an urgent injection of funding.She said: “Mental health services for children and young people in this country have been historically underfunded and completely overloaded for a very long time.
“Only seven per cent of the mental health budget goes on young people under 18, even though half of all mental health problems arise before the age of 14.
That is a very small amount to be spending on preventing problems becoming entrenched and lasting a lifetime, and we need to see this changed.”
In a statement, NHS England said £1.4billion of extra NHS funding has been pledged to improve children and adolescent mental health services, but warned the “transformation will not happen overnight.”
It added: “As a society we must make sure the most vulnerable get the very best care as quickly and simply as possible.
“We need to ensure that all services – the NHS, voluntary sector, education, social care – work together to make sure everything is being done to ensure those at risk are being offered the right services.”
Natasha Devon, the Department for Education’s Mental Health Champion, added: “The Government should look at ways we can make schools and homes the types of environments conducive to mental health.”
You have to find someone to talk to
Nicola Peacock, 19, began to self harm when she was 14 and was hospitalised for a total of two years.She is now doing her A levels and plans to go to university in September:
Nicola Peacock began to self-harm when she was just 14-years-old.
I knew cutting myself was something I shouldn’t be doing and I had to keep it secret.Immediately after doing it I’d feel OK, but then I’d regret it. After about two months I told my mum, because I felt I wouldn’t be able to sort it out on my own and I worried it would get worse.Her first reaction was surprise and worry – in fact she was so worried that I regretted telling her.
The first psychiatrist we saw gave me the wrong medication and didn’t address the causes of my self-harming.I became suicidal and spent five months in hospital, but I was misdiagnosed with depression and ADHD.I then spent 10 months at home, but I went downhill and began to self-harm again.Eventually I was admitted to a different hospital where I was finally diagnosed as bipolar
After 20 months, things began to slot into place, thanks to the support I’d had to help me cope when I felt unhappy.Since I’ve been back at home I talk to my mum aIl the time. I feel very confident about going to university.I would say to anyone who is self-harming, talk to someone – anyone. It’s not something you can cope with on your own.
I prepared a suicide note
Alice was 13 when she first started self-harming. Now she is an activist for the charity Young Minds:
Every day was the same. Arguments, fall-outs and loneliness, I just couldn’t take the stress anymore.
Children who are the 'favourite child' more likely to suffer depression
Young people have spoken of the loneliness that drives them to self-harm
If it wasn’t enough that my parents were constantly fighting, sometimes violently, all my friends seemed to be ditching me for their boyfriends.
Finally I couldn’t really see much point in living any more. I prepared a suicide note and chose the highest building I could jump off
and die.I decided to go through one more day of school before taking my life, when someone asked me what was wrong.
I told them everything. They helped me find things to take my mind off suicide and convinced me that, yes, there must be something to live for even if I didn’t know what it was yet.
Now, I can’t remember the last time I hurt myself on purpose. My advice would be to just tell somebody. It saves you.
How to help your child
Nick Harrop is campaigns manager for the charity Young Minds:
Many parents find themselves paralysed by fear of saying the wrong thing to their child and so they say nothing at all.
One time you should say nothing is if your emotions are running high – then it’s best to give yourself space and time to calm down.
But the rest of the time, even if you don’t get it quite right, each conversation is a show of support for your child.
Young people have shared with us their tips on how parents can get it right:
Try not to judge
Talk about other things too
Childline is a free, 24-hour counselling service for children and young people.
The website is available here or you can call 0800 1111