Self-harm in children 12 years and younger: characteristics and outcomes based on the Multicentre Study of Self-harm in England

Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2022 Jan;57(1):139-148. doi: 10.1007/s00127-021-02133-6. Epub 2021 Jul 19.


Background: Very little is known about self-harm in children. We describe the characteristics and outcomes of children under 13 years who presented following self-harm to five hospitals in England.

Methods: We included children under 13 years who presented after self-harm to hospitals in the Multicentre Study of Self-harm in England. Information on patients' characteristics and method of self-harm was available through monitoring of self-harm in the hospitals. Area level of socioeconomic deprivation was based on the English Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD).

Results: 387 children aged 5-12 years presented to the study hospitals in 2000-2016, 39% of whom were 5-11 years. Boys outnumbered girls 2:1 at 5-10 years. The numbers of boys and girls were similar at age 11, while at 12 years there were 3.8 girls to every boy. The proportion of study children living in neighbourhoods ranked most deprived (43.4%) was twice the national average. 61.5% of children self-poisoned, 50.6% of them by ingesting analgesics. Of children who self-injured, 45.0% self-cut/stabbed, while 28.9% used hanging/asphyxiation. 32% of the children had a repeat hospital presentation for self-harm, 13.5% re-presented within a year.

Conclusions: Gender patterns of self-harm until age 11 years are different to those of adolescents, with a male preponderance, especially in 5-10 years, and hanging/suffocation being more common. The frequent use of self-poisoning in this age group highlights the need for public health messages to encourage safer household storage of medicines. Self-harm in children is strongly associated with socioeconomic deprivation; understanding the mechanisms involved could be important in effective prevention.

Keywords: Adolescents; Children; Methods; Self-harm; Socioeconomic disadvantage.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • England / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Hospitals
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Self-Injurious Behavior* / epidemiology
  • Suicide*