In the past two years, Epsom and St Helier hospitals have seen a dramatic increase in the number of young people aged 11-18 years old presenting with self-harm – nationally, the number of 10-14 year olds attending A&E departments for self-harm related reasons has increased by 70% in the same period. Lin McGraw, Lead Nurse for Paediatrics, said: “It is estimated around 10% of all young people self-harm at some point in their lives. In most cases people who self-harm do it to help them cope with overwhelming emotional issues.
“While the increase of nearly 300% is clearly alarming, the real community incidence of self harm may well be very much higher” said Jane Nathan, Clinic Director at the Healthcare on Demand Clinic in Guildford. “Many of these young people will not be seen in the hospital setting, so these data may represent the ‘tip of the iceberg’. “We know that self harm is often a private, covert act – inflicting physical pain in an attempt to cope with profound emotional pain. Our colleagues in schools are well aware of the problem, and are very, very concerned. Their challenge lies in the fact that they are primarily educationalists – not mental health professionals, and many feel ill equipped to deal with the levels of distress that they are observing in their pupils”.
The recent announcement from the Prime Minister, Theresa May regarding the provision of Mental Health First Aid training to schools is a response to this serious problem:
“What I am announcing are the first steps in our plan to transform the way we deal with mental illness in this country at every stage of a person’s life: not in our hospitals, but in our classrooms, at work and in our communities. This starts with ensuring that children and young people get the help and support they need and deserve – because we know that mental illness too often starts in childhood and that when left untreated, can blight lives, and become entrenched. New support for schools with every secondary school in the country to be offered mental health first aid training”.
Jane Nathan, in her role as a certified Instructor for MHFA (England) said:
“We are delighted by the Prime Minister’s commitment that secondary schools across the country will have at least one member of staff trained as a Mental Health First Aider. Mental ill health in young people is a growing health concern, with half of all lifetime cases of mental health issues starting by the age of 14. This move from the Prime Minister is a welcome step towards bringing mental health on a par with physical health, and we are particularly pleased to hear that the Department for Health will be putting adequate resource in supporting this commitment. The training offered through Mental Health First Aid will provide teachers and frontline professionals working with young people the skills and confidence to spot common signs and triggers of mental health issues, as well as the knowledge and confidence on how to help. There are already 25,000 people in England trained in Youth Mental Health First Aid and we very much welcome the commitment by government to increase the number of people skilled to support a young person who might be experiencing a mental health issue. Currently, only around a quarter of people who need treatment for mental ill health receive it: with access to a Mental Health First Aider we can provide early intervention in guiding a young person to the support they need.”
It is particularly important that all those working with the well being of young people focus on enhancing the care and support provided to the increasing number of young people experiencing difficulties with mental health who end up having to attend A&E.
Useful resources for those experiencing self harm, or for those supporting young people who may be self harming include: