Adolescent Girls’ Self-Harm Cases Soar, Prompting Alarm among Child Psychiatrists

Child psychiatrists are sounding the alarm as their clinics are filling up with adolescent girls who engage in self-harm. Often, these girls receive additional associated diagnoses, such as conduct disorder or anxiety. According to doctors, the dramatic increase was triggered by the COVID pandemic and associated isolation and contact restrictions.

However, many cases are still unknown, and finding an available psychiatrist or psychologist has been impossible for several years. “In recent years, the number of girls who come to us for self-harm and emotionally unstable personality traits has significantly increased,” said Tomas Havelka, head of the children’s psychiatry department at the Havlíčkův Brod Hospital and chairman of the Coordination Committee of the Association of Children’s and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Psychiatrists are struggling to meet the service demand, and the state is lagging. This is a widespread problem, confirmed by the Brno University Hospital, where they also have high numbers of adolescent girls with suicidal thoughts and difficulties regulating emotions. “At the same time, their emotional instability is associated with impulsive behavior and attention deficits,” added Pavel Theiner, the head of the psychiatric clinic.

A relentless trend began to emerge ten years ago. Between 2013 and 2019, hospitalized self-harming children increased by approximately 50%. But this is only the tip of the iceberg, the most severe cases known. Around 3,000 children are hospitalized each year for intentional self-harm.

Many people who engage in self-harm are not hospitalized, and the number of people who do so is much higher than the number of hospitalizations. “Not every person who engages in self-harm is captured in the health or social care system,” explained Laura Juríková, a National Institute of Mental Health research worker.

According to doctors, the significant surge in self-harm is caused by the loss of everyday life, more time spent at home, and the lack of social contacts brought about by the pandemic. Psychologists attribute the rise in self-harm among young girls to the fear of the unknown and the lack of control over the situation, which is incredibly challenging for adolescents. The pandemic has been brutal for everyone, and young people’s mental health is no exception.