The number of teenage girls being treated at the hospital for self-inflicted injuries has nearly doubled in the past two decades, and doctors say the pressures of social media are contributing to the disturbing trend.
Hospitalizations for self-harm in the United Kingdom reached 13,463 in 2017, a drastic increase from 1997, when 7,327 teen girls were treated, according to a report by Health Minister James O’Shaughnessy. British children’s charity NSPCC reported providing more than 15,000 counseling sessions on self-harm last year – about 42 per day, according to the Guardian.
Those counselors cited social media and the demands of school work as the most common reasons the girls gave for harming themselves.
“We know from contacts to Childline that many children are being driven to self-harm as a way of dealing with the pressures and demands of modern-day life,” a spokesman told the Guardian. “Young people are crying out for help.”
These latest numbers seem to follow the trend identified in a 2017 study by British researchers. That study revealed girls are much more likely to harm themselves than boys, and that the rate of self-harm in girls between the ages of 13 and 16 shot up by 68% from 2011 to 2014, according to CBS News.
The World Health Organization reports that self-harm is the strongest risk factor for suicide, which is the second leading cause of death among 15- to 29-year-olds.
Study authors suggest depression and anxiety coupled with the biological effects of puberty could play a major role in the problem.
“The short answer is that we don’t know the reason for the apparent rapid increase in self-harm in girls,” study author Navneet Kapur told CBS News. “The rise could reflect better awareness or recording of self-harm in primary care but it could also be a result of increasing stress and higher levels of psychological problems in young people.”
The prevalence of digital media and technology in the lives of teenagers adds to the pressure and stress to put a perfect face forward at all times. Recent studies have suggested a link between excessive social media use and body image issues, addiction, depression and anxiety.
“Of course such technologies can be helpful and facilitate access to care but there is also a suggestion that ‘extreme connectedness’ could have detrimental effects,” the researchers wrote.
While the internet can serve as a powerful resource for teens who want to find help, Kapur noted, it can also be a place where they can go to seek information on how to self-harm, and find websites and chat rooms where the behavior is normalized and encouraged.
If you’re concerned your child might be engaging in self-harm, here are a few resources we’ve compiled.
Signs Your Child Might Be Self-Harming (from Common Sense Media)
- Talking about self-injury
- Suspicious-looking scars
- Wounds that don’t heal or get worse
- Cuts on the same place
- Increased isolation
- Collecting sharp tools such as shards of glass, safety pins, nail scissors, etc.
- Wearing long-sleeved shirts in warm weather
- Avoiding social activities
- Wearing a lot of Band-Aids
- Refusing to go into the locker room or change clothes in school
How To Get Help: