Category Archives: Cold & Flu

World Rugby criticises call for scrum and tackle ban in school sport

World Rugby has criticised the claims in a study calling for tackling and scrums to be banned in school sport.

Allyson Pollock and Graham Kirkwood from the Institute of Health at Newcastle University argued in the British Medical Journal that most injuries in youth rugby occur due to the collision elements of the game.

The pair called for “harmful contact” to be prohibited on school playing fields. Removing collision from school rugby is likely to “reduce and mitigate the risk of injury” in pupils, they said.

However, in a statement, the sport’s governing body questioned the data on which the claims were based.

“World Rugby and its member unions take player safety very seriously and proactively pursue an evidence-based approach to reduce the risk of injury at all levels,” the statement said.

“These claims are not based on like-for-like injury statistics and the conclusions are not supported by the available data.

“It is well documented that, for most sports, injury rates increase with age, but the quoted research mixes 9-12 with 18-20 age groups.

“Indeed, within the published studies where injury has been properly defined and monitored, suggest the risk for pre-teens is not unacceptably high compared to other popular sports.”

Pollock and Kirkwood called on the UK chief medical officers to advise the British government to remove harmful contact from the game.

In 2016, the nation’s most senior medics rejected a call for a ban on tackling in youth rugby.

But Pollock, who has been researching injuries and rugby injuries for more than 10 years, and senior research associate Kirkwood said that under United Nations conventions, governments have a “duty to protect children from risks of injury”.

“We call on the chief medical officers to act on the evidence and advise the UK government to put the interests of the child before those of corporate professional rugby unions and remove harmful contact from the school game,” they wrote.

“Most injures in youth rugby are because of the collision elements of the game, mainly the tackle.

“In March 2016, scientists and doctors from the Sport Collision Injury Collective called for the tackle and other forms of harmful contact to be removed from school rugby. The data in support of the call is compelling.”

That call was rejected by a range of former players and officials working within the game as well as World Rugby, however.

Nigel Owens MBE (@Nigelrefowens)

They will want to ban walking to school next. And only rubber pens and pencils to be used in class. What is the world coming too. https://t.co/CYMmk6WSgt

September 26, 2017

Dr Willie Stewart, a consultant neuropathologist who has been working in the field of brain injury for more than 15 years and sits on World Rugby’s Concussion Advisory Body, tweeted: “The health crisis facing Britain’s children is not #concussion but obesity and lack of exercise.”

Peter Robinson, the father of Ben Robinson, who died at 14 from second impact syndrome following a school game, and who worked with Stewart in helping to inspire a change in concussion guidelines, added on Twitter: “Banning tackling at schools not the answer. Mismanagement of Concussion is the greatest risk in the game.”

Citing previous research into sports injuries in youngsters, Pollock and Kirkwood had argued in the article that rugby, along with ice hockey and American football, have the highest concussion rates.

They said that rule changes in collision sports can make a difference, highlighting the Canadian ban on “body checking” – where a player deliberately makes contact with an opposing player – in ice hockey for under 13 year olds.

Meanwhile, in the UK “teacher training in the skills of rugby are lacking, as is concussion awareness training,” the pair wrote.

The researchers called on the UK chief medical officers to advise the British government to remove harmful contact from the game. They pointed to a history of concussion being associated with the “lowering of a person’s life chances” across a number of measures including low educational achievement and premature death. Meanwhile, a head injury is linked to an increased risk of dementia.

Commenting on the article, Prof Tara Spires-Jones, UK Dementia Research Institute programme lead and deputy director of the Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Very strong, reproducible evidence supports a greater risk of dementia in people who have head injuries in their lifetimes, which urges caution in games where there is a significant risk of head injury.

“However, the data on specifically whether playing rugby or other contact sports in school increases your risk of dementia are not as robust yet due to a lack of large prospective studies. It is also very clear that there are many health risks of leading a sedentary lifestyle.”

World Rugby criticises call for scrum and tackle ban in school sport

World Rugby has criticised the claims in a study calling for tackling and scrums to be banned in school sport.

Allyson Pollock and Graham Kirkwood from the Institute of Health at Newcastle University argued in the British Medical Journal that most injuries in youth rugby occur due to the collision elements of the game.

The pair called for “harmful contact” to be prohibited on school playing fields. Removing collision from school rugby is likely to “reduce and mitigate the risk of injury” in pupils, they said.

However, in a statement, the sport’s governing body questioned the data on which the claims were based.

“World Rugby and its member unions take player safety very seriously and proactively pursue an evidence-based approach to reduce the risk of injury at all levels,” the statement said.

“These claims are not based on like-for-like injury statistics and the conclusions are not supported by the available data.

“It is well documented that, for most sports, injury rates increase with age, but the quoted research mixes 9-12 with 18-20 age groups.

“Indeed, within the published studies where injury has been properly defined and monitored, suggest the risk for pre-teens is not unacceptably high compared to other popular sports.”

Pollock and Kirkwood called on the UK chief medical officers to advise the British government to remove harmful contact from the game.

In 2016, the nation’s most senior medics rejected a call for a ban on tackling in youth rugby.

But Pollock, who has been researching injuries and rugby injuries for more than 10 years, and senior research associate Kirkwood said that under United Nations conventions, governments have a “duty to protect children from risks of injury”.

“We call on the chief medical officers to act on the evidence and advise the UK government to put the interests of the child before those of corporate professional rugby unions and remove harmful contact from the school game,” they wrote.

“Most injures in youth rugby are because of the collision elements of the game, mainly the tackle.

“In March 2016, scientists and doctors from the Sport Collision Injury Collective called for the tackle and other forms of harmful contact to be removed from school rugby. The data in support of the call is compelling.”

That call was rejected by a range of former players and officials working within the game as well as World Rugby, however.

Nigel Owens MBE (@Nigelrefowens)

They will want to ban walking to school next. And only rubber pens and pencils to be used in class. What is the world coming too. https://t.co/CYMmk6WSgt

September 26, 2017

Dr Willie Stewart, a consultant neuropathologist who has been working in the field of brain injury for more than 15 years and sits on World Rugby’s Concussion Advisory Body, tweeted: “The health crisis facing Britain’s children is not #concussion but obesity and lack of exercise.”

Peter Robinson, the father of Ben Robinson, who died at 14 from second impact syndrome following a school game, and who worked with Stewart in helping to inspire a change in concussion guidelines, added on Twitter: “Banning tackling at schools not the answer. Mismanagement of Concussion is the greatest risk in the game.”

Citing previous research into sports injuries in youngsters, Pollock and Kirkwood had argued in the article that rugby, along with ice hockey and American football, have the highest concussion rates.

They said that rule changes in collision sports can make a difference, highlighting the Canadian ban on “body checking” – where a player deliberately makes contact with an opposing player – in ice hockey for under 13 year olds.

Meanwhile, in the UK “teacher training in the skills of rugby are lacking, as is concussion awareness training,” the pair wrote.

The researchers called on the UK chief medical officers to advise the British government to remove harmful contact from the game. They pointed to a history of concussion being associated with the “lowering of a person’s life chances” across a number of measures including low educational achievement and premature death. Meanwhile, a head injury is linked to an increased risk of dementia.

Commenting on the article, Prof Tara Spires-Jones, UK Dementia Research Institute programme lead and deputy director of the Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Very strong, reproducible evidence supports a greater risk of dementia in people who have head injuries in their lifetimes, which urges caution in games where there is a significant risk of head injury.

“However, the data on specifically whether playing rugby or other contact sports in school increases your risk of dementia are not as robust yet due to a lack of large prospective studies. It is also very clear that there are many health risks of leading a sedentary lifestyle.”

Hospital bosses forced to chant ‘we can do this’ over A&E targets

Hospital bosses were forced to chant “we can do this” by a senior NHS official in an effort to improve their accident and emergency performance in advance of what doctors have warned will be a tough winter for the NHS.

Hospital trust chief executives say they were left feeling “bullied, patronised and humiliated” by the incident last week at a meeting attended by Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, and Simon Stevens, the head of the NHS in England.

The leaders of about 60 trusts which NHS national bodies deemed to have the worst record on meeting the politically important four-hour A&E treatment target were called into a meeting held in London on Monday 18 September.

Chief executives present say that they were divided into four regional groups, covering the south and north of England, London, and the Midlands and east of the country, each of which held a separate session with a senior NHS England official.

Paul Watson, NHS England’s regional director for the Midlands and east of England, then encouraged those in the group he was leading to chant “we can do it” as part of a renewed effort to improve their A&E performance. Hunt and Stevens are not thought to have been at that session; nor was Jim Mackie, chief executive of health service regulator NHS Improvement, who jointly convened the meeting with Hunt and Stevens.

One chief executive said: “It was awful – the worst meeting I’ve been at in my entire career. Watson said: ‘Do you want the 40-slide version of our message or the four-word version?’ Everyone wanted the four-word version, obviously.

“He then said ‘I want you to all chant ‘we…can…do…this’. It was awful, patronising and unhelpful, and came straight after the whole group had just been shouted at over A&E target performance and told that we were all failing and putting patient safety at risk.”

According to the Health Service Journal, which revealed what had happened at the meeting, Watson told trust bosses that they were initially chanting too quietly and that they should chant the slogan again but louder, and “take the roof off” with the noise.

Watson’s use of the tactic has prompted complaints from within the NHS that the chanting was “Bob the Builder for NHS leaders”, after the children’s TV character Bob the Builder with his “Can we fix this? Yes we can” catchphrase. Another HSJ reader posted a comment on its website saying: “More akin to North Korea than the NHS”.

Anger and ridicule directed at Watson have prompted him to apologise for and explain his behaviour in messages he posted on the HSJ website since it published the story.

“If anyone found my session on Monday inappropriate in any way then I can only apologise – it was meant as light relief rather than brainwashing,” said Watson.

“As I said at Monday’s event, this can be done. If that seems cheesy or patronising then so be it but it does have the merit of being true – Paul”, he added.

He also repeated his claim that inadequate A&E performance endangered patients’ safety.

“It’s good to let off steam but let’s remember what’s at stake here: 1 Urgent care is the most basic service the NHS provides; 2 A badly run, crowded ED [emergency department] is a miserable experience for our patients; 3 These patients are often frail, elderly and frightened as well as very ill; 4 A crowded ED can be dangerous.”

If other trusts could provide excellent A&E services despite the rising demand for care, why could the 60 represented at the meeting not do that, he asked. He also angered trust bosses by saying that “the biggest single determinant of whether a struggling service is turned round is the confidence, optimism and determination of local leadership to do this and follow it through”.

The Guardian has approached NHS England and the Department of Health for comment.

I’m reinventing mental health care by putting patients in charge

A feeling of powerlessness dominated my experience of mental health services. And this feeling was at its worst when I was sectioned. Sectioning replicated aspects of the traumatic experience that initially caused my suicidal crisis. I felt trapped, captive and utterly out of control. I couldn’t escape. .

The limited control I had over my interactions with mental health professionals also had a negative impact on me. In the psychiatrist-patient relationship, the power lies with the psychiatrist. And in the community, mental health teams decided how often I would be seen, what kind of care I would receive and when the care would end. Each of these things made me feel vulnerable.

In the summer of 2012 I started to speak of my plans to set up Suicide Crisis, a centre to provide an alternative type of mental health care. However, many people were sceptical because I was a recently discharged psychiatric patient.

The traumatic experience I went through was profoundly damaging and distressing. Remarkably, though, I think it changed me into the kind of person who was able to overcome the many barriers to setting up the crisis service. I developed a determination and a tenacity, which I didn’t have before.

It’s entirely possible that someone can be both a psychiatric patient and a competent professional. But sometimes I’ve felt that people find this difficult to understand. In the four-and-a-half years we’ve been providing services, we’ve never had a suicide of a client under our care.

Our work has received national attention in the last 18 months. We have given oral evidence about our crisis centre to the health select committee and presented to the National Suicide Prevention Strategy Advisory Group, which is run by the government adviser on suicide. We are approached regularly by NHS professionals and commissioners, who refer to our centre as an example of best practice.

Perhaps society can start to think of people with experience of mental illness as having valuable knowledge of what works and what doesn’t, which helps them succeed in this field. There are times when my lived experience is as important as my formal training. I have a deep understanding of what it is like to be in crisis.

My experience has even helped when assessing clients’ suicide risks, as in the case of Aidan*, a patient at the centre. Aidan had been very depressed, then one day he came to his appointment with us and seemed very happy, almost euphoric. I recognised that sense of exhilaration, which a person may feel when they have made a decision to end their life, because I experienced that same euphoria myself in 2012. I recall it as a very intense experience, where all my senses were heightened. I was sure I would soon be leaving this world and could appreciate every aspect of it in what I thought were my remaining hours.

Aidan’s risk was clearly high, and we provided intensive support to ensure his survival. I immediately contacted NHS services so they could assess whether he needed to be sectioned. He wasn’t sectioned, but the NHS crisis team kept in contact with him that night.

After that, he asked us to support him and we saw him on a daily basis. We kept in regular contact with his mental health team and he continued to see them every week.

My experience of feeling disempowered when using mental health services is the reason we ensure our clients have a greater degree of control. They decide how often they see us, what kind of care they receive and when they are ready to leave us. Our male clients say they find this particularly helpful. They can feel especially vulnerable when they seek help; putting them in control helps to counteract this.

Early on we took the decision to employ an advising psychiatrist and other advising clinicians. They have expertise that we don’t. They advise us on individual client cases, which can be complex. And they helped us create links with the local mental health service.

However, the ethos of the charity and the way our service is set up and run are all from a lived experience perspective.

We are in regular contact with local mental health services because we are often helping the same people. Clients often feel able to tell us things they may not feel able to disclose to their mental health team. In such cases, we are keen to share that information, with the client’s permission.

The power balance between patients and mental health professionals has effectively been reinvented in our organisation. “You’re my boss,” our advising psychiatrist tells me. However, I prefer to see it as a levelling of power, a greater equality. We all have huge respect for each other’s different strengths and abilities. We all learn from each other.

*Identifying details have been changed

Joy Hibbins is founder and chief executive of Suicide Crisis

  • In the UK the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.

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Kelly Holmes tells how she self-harmed at height of athletics career

Dame Kelly Holmes has spoken about how she self-harmed at the height of her athletic career as figures emerged showing mental health problems are rising sharply among teenage girls and young women.

Holmes, who won gold in the 800m and 1500m at the Athens Olympics in 2004, said the year before her victories she was cutting herself regularly to release the anguish she was experiencing as a result of suffering sporting injuries.

Holmes said: “At my lowest, I was cutting myself with scissors every day that I was injured.”

She spoke about her experience with depression at the new Health and Wellbeing Live show near her home in Kent.

The former Olympic champion spoke out as figures from the NHS revealed how anxiety, depression, insecurity and low self-esteem linked to body image are causing a growing crisis in teenage girls and young women.

Mental health specialists say it is a “deeply worrying” trend that is far less pronounced among boys of the same age. They warn that the NHS lacks the resources to adequately tackle the problem.

NHS data obtained by the Guardian revealed on Saturday that the number of times a girl aged 17 or under had been admitted to hospital in England because of self-harm had jumped from 10,500 to more than 17,500 a year over the past decade – a rise of 68%. The jump among boys was much lower: 26%.

Holmes shared an image taken immediately after she was injured during the athletics world championships in 1997. It was one of seven injuries that led her to self-harm.

Speaking to BBC South East, she said after “ups and downs for so many years” she got to the point where she looked in the mirror and “didn’t want to be here”.

She added: “The scissors were in the bathroom and I used them to release the anguish that I had. It was really a bad place to be.

“But my biggest message to people is that you can get out of that and you can still achieve. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Becky Randall, co-founder of Health & Wellbeing Live, said: “[Kelly] struggled but she kept going.

“So many of us are inhibited by a black cloud that sometimes descends, by feeling not good enough.

“I want people to be able to understand that they are not alone and that talking about it is what really helps. It’s got to be out there.”

Government-funded research last week showed that one in four (24%) girls aged 14, and 9% of boys the same age in the UK are beset by such negative emotions – including loneliness, self-hatred and feeling unloved – that they are depressed. A decade earlier the rate of depression seen in girls was half that – 12% – while in boys it was 5.5%, said Dr Praveetha Patalay, the lead author of the study.

Overstretched hospitals face winter flu crisis, doctors warn

Emergency departments risk “grinding to a halt” this winter, say medical leaders. They warn that the number of patients facing long waits for treatment is likely to hit record levels.

Dr Taj Hassan, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said staff were dangerously overstretched, as NHS figures showed the number of people waiting more than 12 hours for treatment during the coldest months of the year has soared.

From January to March 2012, 15 patients waited for more than 12 hours – in 2017 this figure was 100 times greater, at 1,597.

Last winter was the worst on record for delays, with nearly 200,000 patients waiting for longer than the four-hour target. Hassan said emergency services will be under even greater strain this year, with patients forced to wait longer for basic treatments such as pain relief.

“Winter last year was relatively mild and without a major outbreak of flu. There are indications that the flu vaccine will not be as successful this year and as such we anticipate that conditions will be even more difficult,” said Hassan. Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, has already put hospitals on high alert following major flu outbreaks in Australia and New Zealand, which it is feared may be repeated in the UK.

An extra 5,000 beds are needed to “to get us through what will be a pretty awful winter”, said Hassan. “Over the last five years there has been a continued reduction in bed numbers yet an increase in patients needing to be admitted. As a result, bed occupancy is now at 92% – significantly higher than the safe level of 85% – which is having a knock-on effect on waiting times.”

A lack of funding, especially in social care, and staff shortages are preventing patients from being admitted swiftly and undermining safety, he said. “There is not enough money in the system to get social care packages, patients are delayed in hospital who should be at home, there are not enough acute hospital beds.”

The number of patients waiting for more than 12 hours also increased during the spring months, a time when pressures usually start to ease. From April to June 2017, 311 people waited more than 12 hours for treatment. For the same period in 2012, this was the case for only two patients.

Such figures are likely to underestimate the length of time spent in A&E because they only capture waiting times starting from when a decision to admit is made, not when the patient arrives.

“There can be little doubt that patients are suffering the consequences of this reduction,” said Hassan. “Along with more doctors, we desperately need more beds to stop the system from grinding to a halt.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said A&E departments had received an extra £100m to prepare for winter, in addition to £2bn of social care funding.

The spokesperson added :“This analysis completely overlooks the continued rise in demand on A&Es and the fact that since 2010 hardworking NHS staff are treating 1,800 more patients within four hours each day and are seeing 2.8 million more people each year.”

Overstretched hospitals face winter flu crisis, doctors warn

Emergency departments risk “grinding to a halt” this winter, say medical leaders. They warn that the number of patients facing long waits for treatment is likely to hit record levels.

Dr Taj Hassan, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said staff were dangerously overstretched, as NHS figures showed the number of people waiting more than 12 hours for treatment during the coldest months of the year has soared.

From January to March 2012, 15 patients waited for more than 12 hours – in 2017 this figure was 100 times greater, at 1,597.

Last winter was the worst on record for delays, with nearly 200,000 patients waiting for longer than the four-hour target. Hassan said emergency services will be under even greater strain this year, with patients forced to wait longer for basic treatments such as pain relief.

“Winter last year was relatively mild and without a major outbreak of flu. There are indications that the flu vaccine will not be as successful this year and as such we anticipate that conditions will be even more difficult,” said Hassan. Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, has already put hospitals on high alert following major flu outbreaks in Australia and New Zealand, which it is feared may be repeated in the UK.

An extra 5,000 beds are needed to “to get us through what will be a pretty awful winter”, said Hassan. “Over the last five years there has been a continued reduction in bed numbers yet an increase in patients needing to be admitted. As a result, bed occupancy is now at 92% – significantly higher than the safe level of 85% – which is having a knock-on effect on waiting times.”

A lack of funding, especially in social care, and staff shortages are preventing patients from being admitted swiftly and undermining safety, he said. “There is not enough money in the system to get social care packages, patients are delayed in hospital who should be at home, there are not enough acute hospital beds.”

The number of patients waiting for more than 12 hours also increased during the spring months, a time when pressures usually start to ease. From April to June 2017, 311 people waited more than 12 hours for treatment. For the same period in 2012, this was the case for only two patients.

Such figures are likely to underestimate the length of time spent in A&E because they only capture waiting times starting from when a decision to admit is made, not when the patient arrives.

“There can be little doubt that patients are suffering the consequences of this reduction,” said Hassan. “Along with more doctors, we desperately need more beds to stop the system from grinding to a halt.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said A&E departments had received an extra £100m to prepare for winter, in addition to £2bn of social care funding.

The spokesperson added :“This analysis completely overlooks the continued rise in demand on A&Es and the fact that since 2010 hardworking NHS staff are treating 1,800 more patients within four hours each day and are seeing 2.8 million more people each year.”

Overstretched hospitals face winter flu crisis, doctors warn

Emergency departments risk “grinding to a halt” this winter, say medical leaders. They warn that the number of patients facing long waits for treatment is likely to hit record levels.

Dr Taj Hassan, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said staff were dangerously overstretched, as NHS figures showed the number of people waiting more than 12 hours for treatment during the coldest months of the year has soared.

From January to March 2012, 15 patients waited for more than 12 hours – in 2017 this figure was 100 times greater, at 1,597.

Last winter was the worst on record for delays, with nearly 200,000 patients waiting for longer than the four-hour target. Hassan said emergency services will be under even greater strain this year, with patients forced to wait longer for basic treatments such as pain relief.

“Winter last year was relatively mild and without a major outbreak of flu. There are indications that the flu vaccine will not be as successful this year and as such we anticipate that conditions will be even more difficult,” said Hassan. Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, has already put hospitals on high alert following major flu outbreaks in Australia and New Zealand, which it is feared may be repeated in the UK.

An extra 5,000 beds are needed to “to get us through what will be a pretty awful winter”, said Hassan. “Over the last five years there has been a continued reduction in bed numbers yet an increase in patients needing to be admitted. As a result, bed occupancy is now at 92% – significantly higher than the safe level of 85% – which is having a knock-on effect on waiting times.”

A lack of funding, especially in social care, and staff shortages are preventing patients from being admitted swiftly and undermining safety, he said. “There is not enough money in the system to get social care packages, patients are delayed in hospital who should be at home, there are not enough acute hospital beds.”

The number of patients waiting for more than 12 hours also increased during the spring months, a time when pressures usually start to ease. From April to June 2017, 311 people waited more than 12 hours for treatment. For the same period in 2012, this was the case for only two patients.

Such figures are likely to underestimate the length of time spent in A&E because they only capture waiting times starting from when a decision to admit is made, not when the patient arrives.

“There can be little doubt that patients are suffering the consequences of this reduction,” said Hassan. “Along with more doctors, we desperately need more beds to stop the system from grinding to a halt.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said A&E departments had received an extra £100m to prepare for winter, in addition to £2bn of social care funding.

The spokesperson added :“This analysis completely overlooks the continued rise in demand on A&Es and the fact that since 2010 hardworking NHS staff are treating 1,800 more patients within four hours each day and are seeing 2.8 million more people each year.”

Mental health data shows stark difference between girls and boys

A snapshot view of NHS and other data on child and adolescent mental health reveals a stark difference along gender lines.

As reported earlier this week, the results of a study by University College London and the University of Liverpool show a discrepancy between the emotional problems perceived by parents and the feelings expressed by their children. Researchers asked parents to report signs of emotional problems in their children at various ages; they also presented the children at age 14 with a series of questions to detect symptoms of depression.

Graph showing that there is a discrepancy between self-expressed emotional problems in teens and problems reported by their parents


The study reveals that almost a quarter of teenage girls exhibit depressive symptoms. Data from NHS Digital, which examines the proportion of antidepressants prescribed to teenagers between 13 and 17 years old, shows that three-quarters of all antidepressants for this age group are prescribed to girls.

More than two-thirds of antidepressants prescribed to teenagers are for girls


Eating disorders are one of the most common manifestations of mental health problems, and are in some cases closely related to depression. A year-by-year breakdown of hospital admissions for eating disorders indicates that, while eating disorders in both boys and girls are on the rise, more than 90% of teens admitted to the hospital for treatment are girls.

Graph showing the difference between girls and boys admitted to hospital for eating disorders

Records also show hospital admissions dating back to 2005 for individuals under 18 years old who committed self-harm. While the numbers for boys have seen a smaller amount of variation with a general upward trend, the figure for girls has climbed sharply during the last decade, with the most significant jump occurring between 2012/13 and 2013/14.

Hospital admissions for self-harm are up by two-thirds among girls


Two of the most common methods of self-harm are poisoning and cutting. Self-poisoning victims are about five times as likely to be girls, and the number of girls hospitalised for cutting themselves has quadrupled over the course of a decade.

Most self-harm admissions involve cases of self-poisoning, which has risen drastically among girls
Self-harm hospitalisations involving girls cutting themselves have quadrupled since 2005


Although self-harm, depression, and other mental health problems are more commonly reported and identified in girls, suicide rates are far higher among boys. This data is consistent with research on differences found between men and women in methods used to commit suicide, the influence of alcohol, and other social or cultural factors.

Teenage boys are more than twice as likely to kill themselves as girls
  • In the UK the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.

Stress and social media fuel mental health crisis among girls

Girls and young women are experiencing a “gathering crisis” in their mental health linked to conflict with friends, fears about their body image and pressures created by social media, experts have warned.

Rates of stress, anxiety and depression are rising sharply among teenage girls in what mental health specialists say is a “deeply worrying” trend that is far less pronounced among boys of the same age. They warn that the NHS lacks the resources to adequately tackle the problem.

New NHS data obtained by the Guardian reveals that the number of times a girl aged 17 or under has been admitted to hospital in England because of self-harm has jumped from 10,500 to more than 17,500 a year over the past decade – a rise of 68%. The jump among boys was much lower: 26%.

Cases of self-poisoning among girls – ingesting pills, alcohol or other chemical substances – rose 50%, from 9,700 to 14,600 between 2005-06 and 2015-16. Similarly, the number of girls treated in hospital after cutting themselves quadrupled, from 600 to 2,400 over the same period, NHS Digital figures show.

Rising levels of “body dissatisfaction” – insecurity and low self-esteem about their appearance – have been identified as driving the unprecedented levels of mental turmoil in young women.

“There is a growing crisis in children and young people’s mental health, and in particular a gathering crisis in mental distress and depression among girls and young women,” said Dr Bernadka Dubicka, the chair of the child and adolescent faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists. “Emotional problems in young girls have been significantly, and very worryingly, on the rise over the past few years.”

Increasing numbers of academic studies are finding that mental health problems have been soaring among girls over the past 10 – and in particular five – years, coinciding with the period in which young people’s use of social media has exploded.

Self-harm rate graph

So many girls are now seeking help that NHS children and adolescent mental health services cannot cope, warned Dubicka. “Over the past few years we have seen overwhelming demand from young girls presenting with emotional distress and self-harm. We don’t have the resources to meet the demand.”

Government-funded research last week showed that one in four (24%) girls aged 14, and 9% of boys the same age in the UK are beset by such negative emotions – including loneliness, self-hatred and feeling unloved – that they are depressed. That was double the 12% rate of depression seen in girls, and 5.5% in boys, a decade earlier, said Dr Praveetha Patalay, the lead author of the study.

From the age of 11 or 12, many girls start to worry intensely about their appearance and perceive pressure to be thin.


From the age of 11 or 12, many girls start to worry intensely about their appearance and perceive pressure to be thin. Photograph: Bubbles Photolibrary/Alamy

Previous work by Patalay found that “a significant increase in emotional problems in girls” aged 11-13 occured between 2009 and 2014. Those years saw a jump in the number of girls that age facing such issues from 13% in 2009 to 20% in 2014. However, the same study of 3,366 secondary-school pupils in England also found “a decrease in total difficulties in boys in 2014 compared to 2009”.

The mounting evidence of low self-esteem among British girls reflects a trend in many other countries in recent years of more and more young females suffering from anxiety and depression.

Girls aged 11, 12 and 13 displayed a “gender-specific vulnerability”, triggered by the onset of puberty, which made them much more likely to worry, sometimes intensely, about their appearance around the time they started secondary school, added Patalay, a lecturer in population mental health and child development at Liverpool University.

“Body dissatisfaction is seen in about 10% of girls at primary school but really jumps in early adolescence, as puberty is starting. During this period girls tend to self-objectify more than boys, experience more teasing around weight and shape and perceive more pressure from friends and family to be thin,” she wrote in a 2015 paper.

Evidence suggested girls could start to internalise anxieties about their appearance from the age of 11, which about a year later emerged as mental health problems, she added.

About half of 15-year-old girls in England and Scotland and a quarter of boys the same age think they are too fat, the World Health Organization found last year.

“Many of the teenage girls we work with tell us that they face a huge range of pressures. In particular, the rise of social media means they need to always be available, they may seek reassurance in the form of likes and shares, and they are faced with constant images of ‘perfect’ bodies or ‘perfect’ lives, making it hard not to compare themselves to others,” said Sarah Brennan, chief executive of the charity Young Minds.

Dr Helen Sharpe, an expert in youth body image and lecturer in clinical psychology at Edinbugh University, said: “In girls, body dissatisfaction is associated with higher levels of dieting, unhealthy weight control behaviours like skipping meals and smoking cigarettes, and also lower levels of physical activity.”

Social media such as Snapchat and Instagram “can be damaging and even destructive” to girls’ mental wellbeing, said Dubicka. “There’s a pressure for young people to be involved 24/7 and keep up with their peer group or they will be left out and socially excluded.”

Use of social media was also contributing to a growing culture of sleep deprrivation among young people, which could both be a symptom of mental illness and also increase the risk of one developing, including depression, she added.

Girls’ tendency to worry more than boys, and their greater sensitivity to criticism have also been pinpointed as potential triggers for distress.

“Girls do have a tendency to ruminate – to worry extensively – more than boys about things of concern, like their friendships, their appearance and fallouts, often in groups. This worrying is a risk factor for depression and may help explain the high prevalence of depression in 14-year-olds,” added Dubicka.

  • In the UK the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.