The prevalence of non-suicidal self-harm (NSSH) has risen to 6% in 16-74 year olds, from 2% in 2000, a study published in the Lancet Psychiatry has found.
The study looked at data from a series of mental health surveys of people across England, with 7243 responses in 2000, 6444 in 2007 and 6,477 in 2014. The overall numbers rose from 2.4% in 2000 to 6.4% in 2014. The increase in reported self-harm was largest among women and girls aged 16 to 24, with 19.7% of those questioned in 2014 saying they’d self-harmed.
‘The prevalence of NSSH has increased in England, but resultant service contact remains low,’ the study’s authors commented.
‘In 2014, about one in five female 16–24-year-olds reported NSSH. There are potential lifelong implications of NSSH, such as an increased frequency of suicide, especially if the behaviours are adopted as a long-term coping strategy. Self-harm needs to be discussed with young people without normalising it. Young people should be offered help by primary care, educational, and other services to find safer ways to deal with emotional stress.’
According to the study, though the use of NSSH as a coping strategy increased steeply across the population, it was most pronounced in young people. More than 10% of young people reported having self-harmed to relieve unpleasant feelings of anger, tension, anxiety, or depression. The authors say that this finding is important because individuals who start to self-harm when young might adopt the behaviour as a long-term coping strategy.
‘An increase in the prevalence of using self-harm to cope with emotional stress could have serious long-term public health implications,’ added the study’s authors. ‘There is a risk that self-harm will become normalised for young people. Furthermore, NSSH increases the risk of later suicide.’