Young women in debt more likely to self-harm, study reveals

Young women in debt and those struggling to pay household bills are more likely to harm themselves than those with no financial difficulties, a major study has revealed.

The research, published by NatCen Social Research and women’s charity Agenda, adds to the growing body of evidence suggesting a critical link between mental illness and poverty.

According to the report, women aged between 16 and 34 years of age from poor backgrounds are up to “five times more likely” to harm themselves than peers from well-off backgrounds.

In total, one in five women with “severe money problems” – such as being seriously behind on bills or having utilities turned off as a result of non-payment – had self-harmed in the last year.

More self-harm was also reported by women who said they “did not feel safe in their neighbourhood in the day”.

Commenting on the study, Jemima Olchawski, Chief Executive of Agenda, said: “The increase in self-harm among young women is deeply worrying. Yet the discussion around this issue and women and girls’ mental health is often very narrow, focussing on issues like social media rather than reflecting on wider causes.

“This research highlights the important relationship between self-harm and poverty – that’s especially concerning as we move into an economic downturn as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.”

Sally McManus, from the NatCen Social Research, added: “People have become increasingly likely to report using non-suicidal self-harm as a way of coping and this increase is particularly apparent in young women. This report indicates that self-harm often occurs in the context of poverty and debt, especially for young women.”

The latest figures suggest that around one in four people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year, with the most common illnesses being anxiety and depression.

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