Shock figures have revealed children as young as eight have been taken to accident and emergency wards in Tayside after intentionally hurting themselves.
More than 150 incidences of young people aged 25 and under attending A&E due to “deliberate self-harm” were recorded by NHS Tayside between April 2013 and March 2014 with the youngest aged just eight.
Although those who attend A&E may not always be admitted to hospital, in that time period there were 258 hospital admissions in total in Tayside of children and young people diagnosed as having intentionally self-harmed.
Danny Kelly, a harm reduction worker at the city’s Cairn Centre, believes increased use of so-called legal highs could be partly to blame.
He said: “We have had such an increase in these cases because of new legal highs, which can bring on emotional distress.”
While Danny primarily works with intravenous drug users, he explained that young people using his service can also present with other evidence of past self-harm, including scarring from cutting, as well as alcohol problems.
“We do see a lot of associated behaviours along with opiate use or drug use,” he said. “It can be used as a coping mechanism. One way we offer support is by being an active listener.”
Since 2011 his team has been providing a drug called naloxone as part of its emergency overdose response kits, which slows the effects of overconsumption of heroin and other opiates.
Although this increases the number of hospital admissions, Danny believes around 350 people in Dundee have been saved by the scheme including many young people. He said: “It will bring someone back from an overdose for around 30-40 minutes so the ambulance can get there and take them to hospital.”
The figures, obtained by the Tele through Freedom of Information, reveal that nearly 100 teenage girls were admitted to hospital and at least 15 teenage boys.
The vast majority of cases were recorded as poisoning, but self-inflicted open wounds, fractures and burns were also listed as reasons for hospital admission.
Of those who presented at A&E, there were twice as many girls and young women as there were boys and young men.
Dr Julie Ronald, an A&E consultant at Ninewells Hospital, said: “All admissions are assessed on an individual basis and, if appropriate, are offered a psychosocial assessment at the time of being seen.”
However, a spokeswoman for NHS Tayside explained that in many of the cases counselling or mental health support would not have been appropriate.
“It would be very wrong to assume that anyone coded as self-harm or deliberate self-harm had mental health issues and the Freedom of Information response makes no reference to this,” she said.
“Intentional self-harm can be a range of things from misadventure to accidents. It does not mean the person has tried to commit suicide. The majority of these cases will be alcohol overconsumption.”
Young people who self-harm or are at risk of self-harm can be referred to NHS Tayside’s children and adolescent mental health services by their GP or consultant.