Steep rise in children attending hospital for self-harm

A total of 1400 children went to NHS acute hospitals in 2020 having self-harmed, the most since 2007.

Steep rise in children attending hospital for self-harm iStock

The number of children attending hospital having self-harmed has risen to its highest level since the SNP came to power, new figures show.

A total of 1400 children went to NHS acute hospitals in 2020 having self-harmed, the most since 2007.

There was a significant rise from attendances the previous year of 1141 and the figure is almost double the year with the lowest rate: 2011, which saw 723.

Scottish Conservative MSP, Miles Briggs, obtained the “truly shocking” figures through a parliamentary answer.

They indicate a rising trend in children attending hospital with self-harm issues for the five years from 2020.

Kevin Stewart, minister for mental wellbeing and social care, provided the answer using Public Health Scotland data and said figures for 2021 are currently not available.

His answer highlighted that figures are likely to be an underestimate as many people with self-harm related injuries are not treated as acute inpatients, or do not present to NHS hospitals.

Briggs said: “These figures are truly shocking. They lay bare the devastating effects the pandemic has had on our young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

“Covid has clearly exacerbated the problem but this distressing issue cannot be blamed entirely on the pandemic. There is a clear, long-term trend that keeps getting worse.

“There were already far too many children and young people waiting for mental health treatment before Covid struck and those queues are growing.

“These statistics confirm the pressing need for more urgency from the Scottish Government. The faster that people get treatment, the less likely they are to harm themselves.

“The Scottish Conservatives will continue to push for at least 10% of the health budget to be ring-fenced for mental health services to ensure that vulnerable youngsters get the support they need immediately.”

Dr Helen Smith, chairwoman of Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland, said: “These figures are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to young people seeking medical help for self-harm.

“Not everyone will attend hospital and the statistics don’t touch on the many young people who end up in A&E.

“Working on the ground, we know self-harm amongst children is increasing. There is also a postcode lottery when it comes to mental health spend.

“Although we welcomed the recent funding announcement for CAMHS, it’s still not there yet. That’s why we’re calling on the Scottish Government to deliver on its commitment to increase spending on CAMHS to 1% by 2026.

“If a young person does need help for a mental health issue, CAMHS is not the only place to get support. Schools offer advice, as well as Young Scot, Samaritans, Breathing Space and NHS 24.”