Young women driven to self-harm by poverty and debt, study finds

Caroline Allen
Women from the poorest backgrounds are most impacted. (Getty Images)

Poverty, debt and the inability to pay household bills are driving young women to self-harm, new research has found.

Sixteen-to-34-year-olds from the poorest backgrounds in the UK are more than five times more likely to self-harm than women from well-off backgrounds.

The study by NatCen Social Research, released by the charity Agenda, found that young women affected by poverty are much more likely to suffer from mental health issues.

The research was highlighted after recent studies have focused on how women are affected mentally by things like social media and body image worries, with little information on how deprivation can impact a young woman psychologically.

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“It’s devastating to see such high and increasing levels of self-harm among young women, especially those living in poverty and facing deprivation. This is especially concerning as we move into an economic downturn,” Jemima Olchawski, Agenda’s chief executive shared.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, experts are predicting a recession will follow the virus, which has potential to put even more people at risk of deprivation.

“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, focusing on issues like social media rather than reflecting on wider causes. This research highlights the important relationship between self-harm and poverty,” Olchawski continued.

Numerous studies, including an analysis from the Children’s Society, have noted that self-harm is on the increase across the board with young women and teenage girls being most impacted.

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NatCen did more than 20,000 face-to-face interviews with women in the UK to determine its findings and came across some other notable mental health impacts.

The first looked at the regularity that women with serious money problems self-harmed. It found that one in five 16-34-year-olds that fell into this category had self-harmed in the past year.

It’s also three times higher among women who are struggling to pay for household bills, with further increases seen in women who have had their utilities switched off as a result of unpaid bills.

The safety factor also features highly in this research. Women who feel that they’re in an unsafe neighbourhood or environment are four times more likely to self-harm that those who aren’t.

While middle-aged men are still the most likely to commit suicide, suicide rates among women aged 10-24 was at an all time high in 2018.

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“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,” lead NatCen researcher, Sally McManus, explained.