One child goes to hospital every 20 minutes after self-harming with drugs or alcohol, shock investigation shows
- Surge in hospital admissions for children who self-harmed with drink or tablets
- Admissions for children between ten and 14 up 58 per cent from 5,520 to 8,749
- Experts blame lockdowns, social media and a shortage of mental health care
A child was hospitalised every 20 minutes last year on average after intentionally poisoning themselves with drugs or alcohol, the Daily Mail can reveal.
Hospital admissions for children who self-harmed with drink or tablets have surged in the past five years, with admissions for those aged between ten and 14 up by 58 per cent from 5,520 to 8,749.
Experts blame lockdowns, social media and a shortage of appropriate mental health care for triggering the crisis.
Conservative MP and former children’s minister Timothy Loughton said the figures were ‘shocking’ and called on the Government to take a closer look at the problem.
Hospital admissions for children who self-harmed with drink or tablets have surged in the past five years (stock picture)
He said: ‘Despite the determination of this government to achieve parity of esteem between mental illness and physical illness and the extra investment on young people’s mental health services, we still need more and more urgent interventions for our children.
‘The unseen consequences of the Covid lockdown are now coming to the surface as we see the impact of closing schools and depriving children of socialising and learning with their peers on their mental health.
‘Every two months represents 1 per cent of a child’s childhood and too much of that growing-up process was taken away from them during lockdown.
While we still have lots to do on academic catch-up, this will amount to little if we do not attend to repairing the mental well-being of children at the same time.’
Hospital admissions for this form of self-harm for all zero to 19-year-olds increased by nearly 20 per cent in the past five years from 22,313 in 2017/18 to 26,450 in 2021/22 – equating, on average, to one every 20 minutes.
Since 2017, 117,616 children were hospitalised after intentionally poisoning themselves with drugs or alcohol – 400 of these cases involved children under the age of ten.
Non-opioid painkillers – such as ibuprofen or paracetamol – were the drugs most frequently responsible, leading to 18,594 admissions last year, according to NHS Digital figures.
Alcohol accounted for 113 hospitalisations and narcotics and hallucinogens accounted for 1,188.
Parents were warned to lock away their medicines and alcohol as the easy accessibility of painkillers and spirits is believed to be behind the high numbers of youngsters using them to self-harm.
Consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Priory, Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg, said: ‘Often young people tell me they used alcohol with their overdose as their friend had tried taking just tablets and it had not worked or they saw on a TV series it didn’t work, so they did their research and read that alcohol alongside would be more damaging.
‘My strong advice to all families, whether they think their children are depressed or not, is to dispose of any medications they do not need at a pharmacy and to lock away any they do need.’
Experts say the stress of the lockdowns and then returning to school also drove up self-harm.
In the first year of lockdown, children were hospitalised 23,298 times for drug or alcohol-related self-harm. In the second year, this jumped to 26,450.
Stephen Buckley, head of information at mental health charity Mind, said the figures were ‘alarming’.
He added: ‘We know that the pandemic has had a significant impact on the mental health of young people, although obviously these figures pre-date that.
‘However, young people are still left facing an agonising wait in a system that cannot keep up with demand and the Government’s response so far has just not been good enough.’
Labour mental health spokesman Dr Rosena Allin-Khan said: ‘These figures are incredibly alarming and demonstrate the urgent need for the Government to tackle the growing mental health crisis.’
One child psychiatrist said self-harm was ‘infectious’.
Dr Elaine Lockhart, of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: ‘We know that children and young people are looking to online content and that there is harmful content that is encouraging them to harm themselves in different ways.
‘There’s also a real push for teenagers to be doing what their peers are doing – there’s an infectious element to self-harm, it is contagious.’
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: ‘We are investing £2.3 billion a year into mental health services to give an additional 345,000 children and young people access to NHS-funded mental health support by 2024.
‘Support in school is vital, and we are committed to increasing the number of mental health teams to almost 400 by April 2023, providing support to three million children and young people.’
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