Social media and the pressures of school work are blamed for a rise in self-harm in girls—but are we ignoring one of the biggest contributing factors: poverty?by Sian Norris / August 10, 2018 / Leave a comment
Earlier this week, the NHS revealed a worrying rise in reports of self-harm among teenage girls in the UK.
Using a reliable national database that tracked trends in reports of self-harm from 2001, they discovered a 68 per cent rise in rates of self-harm in 13-16 year old girls since 2011.
The NHS explained how the database didn’t reveal the causes behind this rise, and stated:
“It could be due to greater awareness of the help available, more teenagers are willing to report self-harming. But we cannot ignore the possibility that many cases of self-harm may go unreported.”
Following the NHS’s study, charities have warned that social media use and the pressure of school work is fuelling this rise—although they correctly state that self-harm cannot be attributed to one single cause.
The link with poverty
However, there is one contributing factor to rates of self-harm in young people that rarely gets acknowledged: poverty and deprivation.
According to a BMJ study published in 2017, “among children and adolescents registered with practices in the most deprived areas, the annual incidence [of self harm] per 10 000 was increased … compared with those consulting practices in the least deprived areas.”
At the same time, those living in deprived communities are less likely to be referred to specialist mental health services—even though incidences of self-harm is higher in these poorer populations.
We must be very careful not to attribute one single cause for self-harm. But that we are reluctant to talk about the risk factor of higher rates of poverty and deprivation alongside increased incidences of self-harm is telling.
How the narrative dismisses young women
It’s a lot easier to blame social media and schoolwork on the frightening and devastating rise in self-harm in young women than it is to blame poverty.
Firstly, because it’s easier to dismiss. From telling girls to simply get off Instagram or Snapchat, to opining on how exams were harder “in my day,” there’s an ugly narrative at play that if young people today aren’t coping then it is somehow their fault.
Secondly, our media narrative has positioned young people in one role: they are the “snowflake generation” or “moaning millennials” (even though teenagers aren’t millennials).