A report has found that 22% of 14-year-old girls in the UK deliberately hurt themselves, with gender stereotypes and appearance worries being the main reasons why.
The survey of 11,000 children found that 9% of boys of the same age also self-harmed, with the rate among both groups higher (46%) if the young person identifies as gay or bisexual.
‘It is deeply worrying that so many children are unhappy to the extent that they are self-harming,’ said Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society, a national charity supporting vulnerable children and the authors of the report.
‘Worries about how they look are a big issue, especially for girls, but this report shows other factors such as how they feel about their sexuality and gender stereotypes may be linked to their unhappiness.’
These numbers amount to 76,000 girls and 33,000 boys having self-harmed in the 12-month period in 2015 – the survey continues to follow the lives of 19,000 UK children born between 2000 and 2001.
Self-harm is when a person deliberately hurts themselves as a method of dealing with difficult, complicated or painful feelings and memories. It can include punching, hitting, cutting and burning.
‘Girls had lower well-being and higher depressive symptoms while boys had greater emotional and behavioural difficulties,’ said the report, but in a separate survey it was confirmed that children were unhappiest with school and their appearance.
A survey of 10 to 17-year-olds found that boys who felt under pressure to be tough and girls to have nice clothes were those least happy in their lives.
‘Difficult experiences in childhood, like growing up in poverty or experiencing discrimination, can have a huge impact on mental health - but there are also new pressures that have emerged in recent years,’ said Emma Thomas, chief executive of Young Minds, a mental health charity. ‘The education system now places a greater emphasis than ever on exam results, while the rise of social media can make problems like bullying or body image issues more intense than they were in the past.’