WA doctors are worried by an alarming increase in the number of children and teenagers presenting with self-harm to emergency departments.
There has been a 400 per cent increase in the past five years, including a downward trend in the age of patients.
Kavitha Vijayalakshmi, head of department at the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service and acting director of clinical services, said the increase was concerning.
“I’ve been a psychiatrist for the last 20-odd years and I’m seeing a lot of kids coming into the ED quite distressed, and the worrying thing is that we’re seeing much younger children,” she said.
“Before we used to see a lot of these issues around the age of 16 or 17, but now we’re seeing them at 12 and 13 years and by then they’re quite entrenched.”
Dr Vijayalakshmi said the biggest issue was self-harm, which was more common in girls, and bullying was a key factor.
The Perth Children’s Hospital Foundation has launched The Big Splash mental health program, using a dolphin art trail across Perth to raise awareness in children and young people. More than 40 schools are taking part in the project, which will also raise funds for the hospital’s child and adolescent mental health unit.
Dr Vijayalakshmi said it was important that children and teenagers felt comfortable talking about their emotions, to help restore their relationships.
“It is very hard for their parents, who can feel ill-equipped to keep their children safe, and we have to support them as much as possible too,” she said.