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Self-harm linked to higher risk of suicide in later life


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Over 50% of young people who died by commiting suicide had previously self-harmed, a report has found.

Bereavement, physical illness, school pressures and bullying were listed as some of the reasons behind the suicides, researchers found. The report looked at a number of suicide cases for 130 children and those aged under 20.

More than 25% of these individuals had expressed suicidal ideas in the week before they died, academics based at the University of Manchester found.


According to figures, between January 2014 and April last year 145 young people died by suicide. Researchers for the university’s National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness (NCISH) looked at information in relation to 130 of those cases.

A staggering 70% of those who died were male and suicide rates were found to rise sharply in older teenagers. Equally unsettling is the revelation that 66 of those who died were aged between 10 and 17, and 5 of them were younger than 14.

The professionals behind the report noted that death by suicide was rarely down to a single cause, and most suicides come as the result of a build-up of different stresses.


Professor Louis Appleby, director of the inquiry, said: “There are often family problems such as drug misuse or domestic violence and more recent stresses such as bullying or bereavement, leading to a ‘final straw’ factor such as an exam or relationship breakdown.”

One further factor was the internet, which the researchers found to be a cause of pain for some; they recorded instances of people expressing suicidal thoughts on social media and some people had been victims of online bullying.

The researchers said that improvements need to be made to self-harm services and access to child and adolescent mental health services was “crucial” to addressing the issue of suicide in young people.

Man walking into the light of a tunnel
(Ben Goode/Thinkstock)

Professor Nav Kapur, NCISH head of suicide research, said: “Self-harm is strongly associated with increased future risk of suicide and is one of the main warning signs.

“It is crucial that there is improved help for self-harm and access to mental health care.

“However, with the variety of factors we found with this study, it is clear that schools, primary care, social services and youth justice all have a role to play.”

The report is the the first stage in a UK-wide analysis of suicides in people aged under 25. It also identified warning signs in some cases and highlighted the need for the provision of proper support, the Samaritans said.


The head of external affairs for the charity, Jacqui Morrissey, said: “From the report, Samaritans is concerned that in the majority of cases there were clear warning signs that the young person was struggling to cope.”

She added: “The message is clear, we need to make sure that the right support is in place for all young people, that all parents, carers and teachers understand about suicide risk and that young people are equipped to look after their emotional well-being before life’s pressures become overwhelming.”

Man at end of pier

Brian Dow from Rethink Mental Illness, said: “This report shows how our mental health services need to improve. A recent report from Centre Forum found that over a quarter of young people are being turned away from mental health services; that’s a disastrous situation.

“We must redouble our efforts to support children and young people and ensure that they are getting the help they need.”

The Royal College of Nursing said early intervention was key to tackling the issue.

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