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Risks and prevalence of self harm in young children in the UK

The prevalence of self harm in young pupils in the UK is on the rise.

There is increased evidence to suggest that greater numbers of children in the UK are inflicting what is called 'self - harm'.  Whilst this is often framed as a 'young adult/teenage' risk and action, there are increasing numbers of cases where pupils in their primary years are carrying out self - harm acts.


The reasons for the increase are unclear, however, wider access to unfiltered/unsupervised access to social media platforms which can depict methods and strategies for self-harm, mental health conditions arising from Covid isolation and detachments are possible and likely factors.


Why do teenagers and children self-harm?

The reasons children and teenagers can self-harm are often complicated and will be different for every child or young person. Sometimes a child or teenager may not know the reasons they self-harm. 


For many young people, self-harm can feel like a way to cope with difficult feelings or to release tension. The physical pain of hurting themselves can feel like a distraction from the emotional pain they're struggling with.

Some difficult experiences or emotions can make self-harm more likely in children:

    • experiencing depression,  anxiety or eating problems
    • having low self-esteem or feeling like they’re not good enough
    • being bullied or feeling alone
    • experiencing emotional, physical or sexual abuse, or neglect
    • grieving or having problems with family relationships
    • feeling angry, numb or like they don't have control over their lives.


Signs of self-harm in children and teenagers

It can be hard to recognise the signs of self-harm in children and teenagers, but as a parent it’s important to trust your instincts if you’re worried something’s wrong.

Signs to look out for can include:  

    • covering up, for example by wearing long sleeves a lot of the time, especially in summer
    • unexplained bruises, cuts, burns or bite-marks on their body
    • blood stains on clothing, or finding tissues with blood in their room
    • becoming withdrawn and spending a lot of time alone in their room
    • avoiding friends and family and being at home
    • feeling down, low self-esteem or blaming themselves for things
    • outbursts of anger, or risky behaviour like drinking or taking drugs.


If you are aware of or suspect a child is inflicting self - harm, has been researching or watching images/clips online, you should see to support them.


Below is a link to the NHS guidance provided for families who are aware of self harm.  Support is available.


Click below:


NHS Self harm support


or call 111 / Childline: 0800 11 11