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BPS responds to media reports on self harming by teenage girls and its links to social media use

07 August 2018

One of our policy advisors, Nigel Atter, has written in response to recent media coverage on worrying rates of self-harm among teenage girls, and the potential reasons for it.

Media reports this week [6 August 2018] suggest that self harming by teenage girls has doubled in 20 years, and that school pressures and social media are to blame, with 13,463 hospital admission for girls who had self harmed in 2017. 

This is a shocking statistic and another wake up call to the government, which plans to improve support for children and young people’s wellbeing.  There is clearly an urgent need to improve services and support for young people, but just 6% of the NHS’s budget is spent of children and young people’s mental health services. 

The Government’s recent green paper was described by the joint health and education select committees as ‘failing a generation’.  When only one in four young people who need treatment receive it, it is hard to disagree. 

The Government’s plan to improve support don’t go far enough. It lacks ambition, is too narrow in scope and does not guarantee resources for the majority of children who desperately need support. 

Whilst school exam pressures and social media are highlighted as the culprit, there is little hard evidence to state categorically that this is true.  One key concern surrounding digital media use in children is that it replaces time spent on activities associated with a healthy lifestyle, such as physical activity, sleep and education.

Families may also worry about the dangers that their child could experience on the internet. There is some evidence that suggests increased screen use is associated with increased levels of depression and anxiety in children. However, research in this area is limited and only shows links rather than causes. 

As reported in our recent briefing ‘Changing Behaviour: Children, adolescent and screen use’ children should be encouraged to use digital media in a productive and purposeful way because it can have a beneficial effect. In particular, interactive digital media can provide opportunities for learning, creating, communicating and promoting healthy behaviours. 

One aspect of children’s life that today's articles do not explore is the impact of adverse childhood experiences such as poverty, neglect and abuse.  There is a growing evidence base that multiple adverse childhood experiences have a significant impact on children’s wellbeing.

As a Society, we will continue to advocate for:

  • evidence-based prevention and early-intervention services for all children.
  • development of evidence-based policy that addresses adverse childhood experiences
  • educational and clinical psychologists working in schools
  • prioritising children and young people in vulnerable groups for improved support


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