Almost 5,000 boys and teenagers were admitted to A&E over the last year with self-inflicted injuries last year, according to official figures.
This is a rise of 15 per cent from the year before, though experts suggest the reported numbers may be only the tip of the iceberg.
“Young women and girls may talk about this more, which is the same thing we see in other health and mental health concerns,” said Dr Stephen Lewis, an expert in non-suicidal self-injury at the University of Guelph, in Canada.
“With men there’s often a greater sense of shame; the feeling that you shouldn’t be doing these things and you should be stronger.”
Dr Lewis understands these feelings better than most: he began self-harming as a teenager and continued until his time as a university undergraduate, an experience which he relayed in a recent TED Talk.
While he grew up in a “loving, supportive family”, in secondary school he was “relentlessly” bullied.
“I can recall the pain in my arms from being punched so hard,” Dr Lewis said. “I can also recall what they said to me on a daily basis: ‘You should just kill yourself’.
“I yearned for relief; just a temporary break from the pain that I felt inside. And so, out of desperation…I cut myself. For me, self-injury provided needed relief.
“It communicated the great hatred I felt towards myself.”
Through family support and therapy, Dr Lewis was able to end this self-harm, but he now believes more should be done in schools to help young people – and in particular young men – cope with negative emotions and stress.
“There’s virtually nothing out there about preventing people self-harming,” he said. “Ideally we would be working with children and adolescents as they go through school, teaching them about how we can cope with and express different emotions.
“If they feel they shouldn’t be expressing certain things, they will learn that they shouldn’t talk about how they feel. And over time, even though the majority won’t go on to self-harm, some will.”
He suggested that young people were under more stress than in previous generations, and that heightened stress is often associated with self-harm.
In his previous research, Dr Lewis has focussed on how the internet can be used to support people who are or are at risk of self-harming.
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