Girls in Wales more likely to be admitted to hospital after self-harming, study finds

Girls in Wales are more likely to be admitted to hospital after self-harming than boys, according to new research.

The study, led by Swansea University, included 937,697 young people aged between 10 and 24, with 15,739 of these accessing healthcare services for self-harm.

It looked at data from GPs, emergency care departments and outpatient clinics as well as hospital admissions in Wales between 2003 and 2015.

The findings showed that young people from deprived areas were more at risk, with self-harm rates more than double those in areas of least deprivation.

Over the period, most youngsters accessed primary care services but the number of people attending emergency care and subsequently being admitted to hospital increased.

Rates of self-harm were highest among those aged 15-19, but from 2011 the largest increases were seen among those aged between 10 and 14, particularly girls.

Hospital admissions for the 10-14 age group almost doubled during the period among boys and young men, and more than doubled among girls and young women.

Boys who attended emergency care after self-harming were much less likely to be admitted to hospital than girls, though 58% of those seeking such care were boys and young men.

The gender disparity was most evident among those aged between 10 and 15, the study found.

Three quarters of girls of that age who sought emergency care were admitted to hospital compared to 49% of boys.

Ninety per cent of girls who had poisoned themselves were admitted, compared to 69% of boys of the same age group.

Professor Ann John, of Swansea University Medical School, led the research, which has been published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

“Our findings highlight the opportunities for early intervention when young people attend or are brought into contact with health services for self-harm, especially in primary care and emergency departments,” Prof John said.

“There are initiatives to improve help-seeking in boys and young men but we also need to consider if, when they do attend, we manage them differently to girls and young women.”

Researchers say this study cannot establish causes and only reflects contacts made with healthcare services, rather than actual numbers of young people who self-harm.

They suggest that given the data is based on a large sample over a period of 12 years, the results are likely to be applicable to the rest of the UK.

Last month, the Welsh Government issued guidance to all schools in Wales regarding self-harm in young people, following a workshop that included discussions of the study’s findings.

Self-harm presentation across healthcare settings by sex in young people: an e-cohort study using routinely collected linked healthcare data in Wales is published in Archives of Disease in Childhood.

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