Scars due to self harmThere is an epidemic in the black community which is not addressed. Perhaps most people don’t know that it exists because, well it is a ‘best kept secret’.

Self-harm here, as in the USA is reported as a white problem usually affecting the girl children of middle aspirations.[1] Yet it is little reported that this rapidly growing epidemic taking hold in bedrooms, destroying self confidence and in some tragic cases, death, disproportionally affects black females in the UK and black males in the USA. The number of children who self-harm has jumped 70 per cent in just two years in the UK. The UK has one of the highest rates of self-harm in Europe.

A study undertaken by researchers from the universities of Manchester and Oxford found that in Derby, Oxford and Manchester, (three large cites in England), that young black women are more likely to self-harm than other racial groups. The statistics from Manchester showed that the rate for self-harm amongst black females was 10.3 per 1,000 compared to 6.6 per 1,000 for whites.[2]

The picture was very different for young black men. The statistics in the survey revealed that young men both black and white had similar rates of self-harm across the three cities. That is very different from the American experience. The 2011 research undertaken by the University of Mississippi Medical Center analysed data from middle and high schools with diverse populations. The data showed that across the board, there where higher rates of self-harm amongst African American boys than other groups of students, including cutting acts of self-harm by white girls.


The UK research, which was a study of patients using the emergency departments of the three cities, also found that people from ethnic minority groups who self-harmed were more likely to be students than their white counterparts and so they may be under academic pressure. This finding by Dr Jayne Cooper, of the Centre for Suicide Prevention at the University of Manchester, supports the position of Professor Tanya Byron, a leading child psychologist, who said in her address to the Girls’ School Association in London in November 2014 that the growing numbers of teenagers that were suffering from eating disorders and self-harm was due to the pressure of exams.

This implies that the attitude of parents has a bearing on children self-harming. Self-harm is a way of expressing and dealing with deep distress and emotional pain. The cutting is a physically painful stimuli that provides some relief from emotional distress. Although the relief does not last very long. Self-Harming tends to be done in secret and covered up. The Royal College of Psychiatry say people who self-harm are 50 to 100 times more likely to take their own lives, than the rest of the population.

The media, from reports to images used in self-harm, don’t highlight the problem from a cultural perspective. This puts black children at more risk as they are marginalised. The position is further complicated as the black communities tend not to use the mental support services not only because they are viewed with suspicion but also because the subject of mental health is taboo. Add the government cuts to welfare and support services such as youth workers and emotional well-being workers at schools and that means that young black people are less likely to receive treatment.


Further information and support can be found here
1) The Independent, Wednesday 18 March 2015, Exam pressure is driving more teens to eating disorders and self-harm.
2) British Journal of Psychiatry, September 2010; Volume 197, Issue 3, Ethnic differences in self-harm, rates, characteristics and service provision

The picture is from the Science Photo Library.