More Canadian youth are being hospitalized for intentionally hurting themselves, and the greatest increase is among girls.
The number of girls hospitalized for self-harm more than doubled in the past five years, according to a new report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information.
Nearly 2,500 hospitalizations among youth aged 10 to 17 were due to intentional self-harm in 2013-2014, the study found. More than 80 per cent were girls.
“There’s something going on there that we need to pay attention to,” said Tana Nash, executive director of the Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council.
“What are we missing or what do we need to be doing?”
However, she also points out that while those numbers seem staggering, it’s a small percentage of Canadian youth, with 10- to 19-year-olds numbering around four million.
“Yes, it’s a concern. But we also have lot of youth who are doing well,” Nash said.
She said self-harm rates have typically been higher among girls, while suicide is higher among boys. The report says 152 boys age 10 to 19 died by suicide in 2011, compared to 75 girls. The increase in self-harm hospitalizations among girls is substantial — just over 1,000 in 2009 to nearly 2,040 in 2013.
“I think it’s a cry for help,” Nash said.
The numbers show why prevention efforts are vital, including starting when children are quite young to build resiliency against tough times in adolescence, and into adulthood.
“We need to pay attention to this,” Nash said. “These issues don’t go away.”
But, she stressed, not just mental health professionals are responsible for prevention.
“It does take all of us. All of us can provide that leadership,” Nash said. “We can all play a role.”
Dr. John Heintzman, chief of psychiatry at Grand River Hospital, hasn’t noticed a spike in the number of youth coming in for self-harm, but said it is a significant issue.
“This is not only a couple of kids. This is a regular thing,” Heintzman said.
And not just children of a certain background struggle.
“It’s all ranges of kids,” he said. “It’s not usually one problem. It’s three or four problems entangled.”
Youth who come into the emergency department in crisis will get a mental health assessment from a dedicated psychiatric nurse, who will discuss the case with the emergency doctor on duty and decide if admission to the child psychiatric unit is necessary.