Hospitals are treating almost twice as many girls for self-harm as they did 20 years ago.
The number of hospital admissions for girls who self-harmed jumped from 7,327 in 1997 to 13,463 last year. The number treated for attempting an overdose rose more than tenfold in the same period, from 249 to 2,736, NHS data shows.
Admissions of boys for self-harm stayed broadly constant, from 2,236 in 1997 to 2,332 last year. The number attempting an overdose jumped from 152 in 1997 to 839 last year.
This follows the revelation in July that the number of antidepressants prescribed to children in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland had risen over the past three years. In England, there was a 15 per cent rise, in Scotland the figure was 10 per cent and in Northern Ireland 6 per cent.
The figures relate to a group of powerful antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
The total number of prescriptions for anti-depressants given to under-18s rose from 290,393 in 2015-16 to 330,616 in 2017-18. The steepest increase was seen in the youngest patients, those aged 12 and under, where the number of prescriptions rose from 14,500 to almost 18,000.
So if we just take some of the figures together this means that last year 13,463 girls had to be admitted to hospital for self-harm and at the same time there are almost 18,000 under-12s on powerful antidepressants.
Last month it was also reported that a study revealed a 50 per cent rise in levels of prenatal depression in a single generation.
The study by the University of Bristol questioned pregnant women aged 19 to 24 between 1990 and 1992, and then between 2012 and 2016. In the first generation 17 per cent had high depressive symptoms scores, while among the second group the proportion had risen to 25 per cent.
I do think the age range is very narrow and may have influenced the results but it is still worrying.
Finally, more than 2.5million over 60s, or nearly a fifth of the age group, are on antidepressants, partly in an effort to treat the ‘epidemic of loneliness’.
Professor Carmine Pariante, of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, told the Times that the fragmentation of society meant people were likely to turn to medicine to cope with suffering. ‘From a social point of view we tend to have less of the traditional psychological support — relatives, siblings, friends and the religious person; the rabbi, priest, imam. These people have been so important in psychological support for individuals for centuries and we might be missing that.’
Too true, too true. Relatives, siblings, the mad vicar, they are indeed from a bygone age never to be resurrected now that we have Facebook, Tinder and rugged individualism.
So what’s going on here? What is with all the depression? If you are on the Left you could blame the lack of funding for mental health services and austerity generally. Those on the Right could blame the collapse in family life, religion and community. Both can blame social media, even though those that do all the blaming probably like a fair bit of Facebook themselves.
But why the big difference between boys and girls when it comes to self-harm? Why are young mums more depressed now than 20 years ago? The opportunities girls and young women enjoy now are the greatest any generation of women have ever had at any point anywhere on the planet. Yet the numbers tell a story. And it’s a sad story.
Perhaps we were a bit quick in dismantling the good things about the ‘bad old days’. Family stability, the idea of commitment for life, having a mother to come home to from school, having some time with your new baby before being asked ‘When are you going back to work?’ every five minutes. To some these are oppressive ideas which aim to suffocate and control. But to others they brought steadfastness and love to a crazy world. Now, with the erosion of values we once took for granted, some people have paid a price. And they will continue to do so.