'One in 10 adolescents' self-harm
One in 10 adolescents in Northern Ireland self-harms, new research has revealed.
Past exposure to years of conflict and the emergence of social media are new associated risk factors, according to a study.
Bullying, sexual, physical, alcohol and drug abuse have also been blamed. Rates of mental disorders are among the highest in Europe.
The findings emerged when 3,595 school children were surveyed in the first study of its kind to ascertain the prevalence and factors linked to self-harm.
The research was headed up by Professor Rory O'Connor at the University of Glasgow and funded by the Northern Ireland Department of Health, Social Service and Public Safety and published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.
Alongside exposure to the Northern Ireland conflict and social media, established risk factors such as bullying, history of sexual and physical abuse, concerns about sexual orientation and drug and alcohol use were also associated with lifetime self-harm.
One in 10 young people reported that they had self-harmed at some stage in their lives, which is lower than elsewhere in the UK and Republic of Ireland.
Girls were found to be three-and-a-half times more likely to engage in self-harm than boys.
The lower rate according to the research was unexpected given that the rates of hospital treated self-harm are high in Northern Ireland while the rates of mental disorders are among the highest in Europe.
Researchers believe that the discrepancy is due to the fact that as a result of the conflict, young people in Northern Ireland are more reluctant to disclose personal information, masking the true extent of the problem.
Professor O'Connor, chair in health psychology at the University of Glasgow, said: "These findings highlight the wide range of risk factors associated with self-harm. They also suggest that the emotional and psychological legacy of the Northern Ireland conflict, as well as the influence of new technologies, are associated with self-harm among adolescents in Northern Ireland - and need to be addressed."
"It is important to note that more research is required before we are able to fully understand the full legacy of the Northern Ireland conflict, as well as the influence of new technologies on the mental well being of our youth."
Professor Keith Hawton, from University of Oxford and a co-author of the study, said: "Increased understanding about the incidence of self-harm in adolescents in Northern Ireland and the factors that contribute to it as provided by the findings of this study are essential for the development of local prevention initiatives. In addition, the findings provide particularly valuable information about the influence of electronic and other media on self-harm in young people".
Health Minister Edwin Poots welcomed the study, saying: "This research enhances our understanding of self-harm among our young people and, in particular, the influence that social media can have.
"These findings will inform the development of programmes for reducing self-harm. Given the association between self-harming behaviour and later suicide attempts, the findings will also be of great benefit in developing the new suicide prevention strategy for Northern Ireland."