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expert reaction to study looking at self-harm prevalence in England

Research published in the Lancet Psychiatry suggests that non suicidal self harm rates grew from around 2% to 6% of the population between 2000 and 2014. At the same time, the study noted no evidence of an increase in treatment contact for this group.


Dr Dennis Ougrin, Clinical Senior Lecturer in Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London, said:

“The study by McManus et al, undertaken in a mainly adult general population sample, highlights an important and concerning trend: an increase in self-harm as well as in emotional disorders, especially in younger people and especially in females.  It shows that a recent dramatic increase in the number of young people with self-harm who present to emergency departments and to primary care services is not purely a reflection of more people seeking help, but is linked to a substantial increase in self-harm in the population.

“Self-harm is one of the strongest known predictors of death by suicide.  We recently started to understand how best to help young people with self-harm.  Psychological treatments such as Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) offer a real chance for improvement.  But no country can afford to offer costly interventions such as DBT to all young people who need it.  In addition, many people with self-harm never seek help, another important finding confirmed by McManus et al.  The findings highlight the importance of developing public health and school-based interventions to prevent and reduce self-harm.”


Prof Rory O’Connor, Director of Suicidal Behaviour Research Lab, University of Glasgow, said:

“This study provides the most robust evidence yet that self-harm in the general population in England has increased since the year 2000.  This trend is particularly concerning for women and girls aged 16–24 years and may be mirroring, in part, the recent increase in young adult suicide in the UK.  Given that self-harm increases the subsequent risk of suicide and as we know little about the causes of these increases, it is vitally important that national funding for research into self-harm is prioritised.”


‘Prevalence of non-suicidal self-harm and service contact in England, 2000–14: repeated cross-sectional surveys of the general population’ by Sally McManus et al. was published in the Lancet Psychiatry at 23:30 UK time on Tuesday 4 June 2019.


Declared interests

Dr Dennis Ougrin: “None.”

Prof Rory O’Connor: “I don’t think I have any COI in this paper – although I have published with David Gunnell I’ve never collaborated with the 1st or senior author.”

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