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Six-year-old children now self-harming

Children as young as six have been treated in hospital after deliberately harming themselves -- and more are going untreated, psychiatrists have warned.

The Herald has learned that 197 children aged between six and 16 were identified at Crumlin children's hospital as deliberately self-harming between 1993 and 2003.

Some 11 children out of the 197 were aged 10 or younger, including one six-year-old, two eight-year-olds, three nine-year-olds and five 10-year-olds.

Prof Fiona McNicholas, child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Lucena Clinic in Dublin, warned that these figures are only the tip of the iceberg.

"Many don't tell their parents and those are the children who are the most worrying, because they don't know of the services that are out there for the prevention of deliberate self harming," she said.

She also warned that depression is becoming more prevalent in younger children.

"The prevalence of binge drinking is increasing in pre-teens, in 12-year-olds for example, and it's making individuals impulsive. There is a link between alcohol and self-harm."


She added: "Because we know that deliberate self-harming is one of the strongest risk factors in those dying by suicide, education of the public and professors about it is very important."

Some 15 of the children examined in Crumlin hospital were 11 years old, 33 were 12 years, 72 were aged 13, and 55 were aged 14. The children ranged in age from six to 16 years, and overdose was the method in the vast majority (81pc) of cases.

Other methods included cutting (4pc), hanging (3pc) and jumping (3pc).

Prof McNicholas said the methods and reasons for self-harming vary across age groups, since younger groups often harm themselves to numb the pain and there's no intent to die.

She said younger children engage in self-harm by banging their head off a door or a window, or impulsively taking bleach.

The latest research said on-call child psychiatric services needed to be "urgently developed" in Irish hospitals.