One in 10 16-year-olds in Northern Ireland surveyed in a new study have considered self-harm or taking an overdose of drugs.
The study, undertaken by researchers at ARK (Access, Research, Knowledge), a joint initiative by Queen’s University and the University of Ulster in Ireland, also found that almost one-third of 16-year-olds experienced serious personal, emotional, or mental health problems in the past year.
For the annual Young Life and Times (YLT) survey, 1,367 teens across Northern Ireland were asked questions focusing on their sense of community belonging, their experience of financial hardship, and their mental health, including self-harm.
Key findings of the 2013 survey included:
- 28 percent of 16-year-olds said they had experienced serious personal, emotional or mental health problems at some point in the past year;
- Just over one-third sought professional help for these problems;
- 13 percent said they had, at some point in the past, seriously thought about taking an overdose or harming themselves, while six percent had thought about it in the past month; and
- 13 percent said they had self-harmed, with five percent reporting they had done it once and eight percent reporting they had done it more than once.
In 2008, when these questions were asked for the first time in the yearly survey, 26 percent of 16 year-olds had experienced serious mental health problems, 13 percent had thought about self-harm, while 10 percent had actually done so, the researchers noted.
“These findings from the YLT survey show that despite the investment in mental health services in Northern Ireland, compared to five years ago, there has been virtually no change with regard to young people’s experiences of stress and mental health problems,” said Dr. Dirk Schubotz from the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work at Queen’s University and YLT Director.
“It is particularly significant to note that still only a small minority of 16-year-olds seek professional help when experiencing serious emotional health problems.”
He noted that while mental health campaigns attempt to destigmatize mental health problems, “by far the most likely reason why young people self-harm remains self-punishment.”
“This suggests that young people with mental health problems keep blaming themselves for these, rather than appreciating external stressors, such as pressures arising from school work or financial difficulties,” he continued.
The study’s findings correlate to those of Primary 7 (P7) children between the ages of 10 and 11 who took part in the 2013 Kids’ Life and Times (KLT) survey, the researchers said.
The two studies found that:
- three percent of both KLT and YLT respondents said their families did not have enough money for ordinary or special things;
- 21 percent of P7 children and 40 percent of 16 year olds said their parents had money for ordinary, but not for special things;
- Nearly one quarter (24 percent) of 16 year olds said their families had difficulties affording their school uniform, while holidays organized by schools were difficult to afford by nearly four in 10 (39 percent) families.
The researchers noted it is 16-year-olds from families that are struggling financially who were most likely to suffer from poor mental health and to have self-harmed.
“The 2013 YLT survey shows that around four in 10 families with teenage children find it difficult to make ends meet,” said Dr. Paula Devine, author of the ARK Research Update on Financial Wellbeing.
“The data from the KLT and YLT surveys clearly identify the financial pressures upon families and will be an important tool for government, in particular, to monitor progress related to its Child Poverty Strategy, which aims for a sustained reduction in poverty.”
Source: Queen’s University Belfast