Five-year-olds are at risk from self-harm in UK

August 3rd, 2008 - 9:58 am ICT by IANS  

London, Aug 3 (IANS) With the dubious distinction of having the highest child self-harm cases in Europe, UK goes down another notch in mental health as a survey reveals that children as young as five years old are harming themselves. The first national survey on self harming, conducted by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, has said one in five boys in the 11-19 age group has inflicted self-harm. The ratio for girls in the age group is one in three.

However, the startling revelation, not found in the report, is that self-harm cases are being reported from children under 10, including five-year-olds.

The survey initially failed to investigate incidents among children aged 10 and under, believing that was the minimum age at which a child could be involved in self-harm.

However, David Kingsley, a psychiatrist who is lead consultant for young people’s services at Cheadle Royal Hospital in Cheshire, and who helped to conduct the inquiry and now agrees that the report should have included even younger children, under the age of 11.

The change of mind happened after a charity reported a unique case.

“We are treating one boy, aged just five years old, who has been biting himself so badly that we are all very concerned about him,” said Peter Wilson, clinical adviser to the Place2Be, a charity which supports young children, and the former director of the Young Minds mental health charity. “It is not yet common for children of that age to self-harm, but we are seeing it increasingly often.”

The primary reason is said to be increased rates of mental health problems now being seen in children as a result of the ever greater levels of stress, unhappiness and insecurity they report suffering.

Diana Cant, one of the few psychotherapists in Britain who works with children under the age of 10, said that self-harm among the youngest age groups is often missed by parents and carers.

‘While it is relatively rare that a child of five and younger will take a blade to their arm, it is increasingly common for them to act in a way that puts them in danger. Rather than expressing their anger or distress directly, they will attack themselves or seem to be extraordinarily prone to having accidents.’

Cant told The Guardian that it is important such children receive help before their behaviour becomes embedded. “Very young children have not yet started to go into denial or tone down their feelings. A child harming at five is not irredeemably damaged, but does need urgent and long-term professional help.”

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