A new study of non-suicidal self-harm (NSSH) in England, published in the Lancet Psychiatry journal, suggests that rates grew from around 2 per cent to 6 per cent 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.
The analysis of data from the 2000, 2007 and 2014 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey found that NSSH has become more common in both sexes and in people of all ages. The prevalence of self-reported lifetime NSSH increased from 2.4 per cent (95% CI, 2.0-2.8) in 2000 to 6.4 per cent (95% CI, 5.8-7.2) in 2014.
Increases in prevalence were noted in both sexes and across age groups but were most notable in women and girls aged 16-24 years, in whom prevalence increased from 6.5% (4.2-10.0) in 2000, to 19.7% (15.7-24.5) in 2014.
The proportion of the population reporting NSSH to relieve unpleasant feelings of anger, tension, anxiety or depression increased from 1.4 per cent (95% CI, 1.0-2.0) to 4.0 per cent (95% CI, 3.2-5.0) in men and boys, and from 2.1 per cent (95% CI, 1.6-2.7) to 6.8 per cent (95% CI, 6.0-7.8) in women and girls, between 2000 and 2014.
In 2014, 59.4 per cent (95% CI, 54.7-63.9) of participants who had engaged in NSSH reported no consequent medical or psychological service contact, compared with 51.2 per cent (95% CI, 42.2-60.0) in 2000 and 51.8 per cent (95% CI, 47.3-56.4) in 2007. Male participants and those aged 16-34 years were less likely to have contact with health services than were female participants and older people.
The authors raise concerns that there could be lifelong implications of NSSH, especially if the behaviours are adopted as a long-term coping strategy. They say more must be done to help young people manage emotional stress.