HARM'S WAY: Why are girls hurting themselves

YOUNG girls are self-harming at alarming rates, with the number of 10 to 14-year-olds admitted to hospitals in the region nearly doubling over the past five years.

Taken together with older teenagers, there were 252 hospitalisations for intentional self-harm among girls aged 10 to 19 in Hunter New England last financial year, an increase of 64per cent on 2008-09.

Experts are unable to fully explain the rise but agree they are seeing more children and teenagers deliberately hurting themselves and experiencing mental health issues, and at younger ages, than ever before.

Dr Tyler Schofield, the resident GP at Headspace Newcastle, a youth mental health service, said just a fraction of people who self-harm ended up in hospital.

‘‘Some self-harm is serious enough that people need to be tended to by emergency doctors or treated for psychological distress,’’ he said.

‘‘Most self-harm is managed by families, friends and GPs.’’

The growing number of young people self-harming has attracted the attention of health professionals and community leaders around the country and sparked an inquiry by National Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell.

‘‘The latest available data from 2012 shows that intentional self-harm was the leading cause of death among Australian children and young people aged 15 to 24,’’ she said.

‘‘For this reason, it’s vital that we hear from people all over Australia, including Newcastle and the Hunter region.’’

Commissioner Mitchell will examine why children are engaging in intentional self-harm and suicidal behaviour, and the barriers preventing them from seeking help.

‘‘[This] is an opportunity to shed a light on what’s happening and how we can better respond to their cries for help,’’ she said.

She has urged people to make submissions and will report back to Parliament later this year.

Hunter health professionals say self-harming behaviours should not be dismissed.

Hamilton GP Catherine Riedel said in most cases some kind of medical treatment was required, and in about half of those cases that involved medication.

‘‘A lot of the medications do work very well and it can allow kids to focus better and deal better with the underlying issues, and take back control over their lives,’’ she said.

‘‘It’s always hard [to make that decision] especially with 13-14 year-olds, it’s pretty young, we try to hold off until a bit later but it depends on the individual.’’

Hunter New England Health psychiatrist and the clinical director of the region’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service Dr Choong-Siew Yong said the factors behind self-harming behaviours were multi-faceted and many questions remained unanswered.

Research showed that self-harming was a psychological response to ‘‘an unbearable situation with high levels of stress’’, Dr Yong said.

‘‘So the question is are our children more in these psychological situations now than they were before?

‘‘But that doesn’t explain all of it. I see young people where that is not so clear, they are not from an abusive family or in that sort of situation, so it doesn’t explain it fully.’’

Dr Yong said social media was thought to play an important role in the mounting pressures on young people.

‘‘There are more expectations on kids nowadays.

‘‘Many of the kids we see have nominated quite severe bullying as being behind the way they feel.’’

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