Early onset, non-suicidal self-harm, prevalence rates, younger and older adolescents.
Background: Clinical data indicate that the rates of non-suicidal self-harm (SH) are rising and developing younger, causing increasing concern. However, to date, no United Kingdom (UK), Irish or European community based surveys have been able to determine the prevalence rates of not only SH ideation but also actual incidences of SH behaviours in younger adolescent groups (11–14 years). Hence the aim of the current study was to establish an estimate of how SH may be developing in children as young as 11 up to 14 years, and compare these rates with more established older adolescent age groups of 15 up to 18 years.
Method: A cross-sectional online survey design was used, where a total of 864 adolescents (56% female, n = 480), aged from 11 up to 18 years, were recruited from four post-primary schools in the north-west region of NI.
Results: The rates of SH ideation in the younger adolescents (11–14 years) was reported to be 7.9%, and SH behaviours was 5.7%. When compared to the older adolescents (15–18 years), the rate of SH ideation was reported to be 18.5%, and the rate of SH behaviours was 12.5% (which are comparable to others parts of UK, Republic of Ireland and Europe). Females are more at risk of SH ideation and behaviours than males in both age groups.
Conclusion: SH ideation and SH behaviours are developing at a much younger age than was previously considered in school-based community settings. Recommendations for future research studies include lowering the age threshold of participant samples and focusing on female adolescents in order to explore the prevalence of SH ideation and behaviours in this vulnerable group. Tentative theories have been suggested regarding the use of social media, social comparison, perfectionism and contagion as potential predictors which require further exploration in relation to adolescent SH ideation and SH behaviours.