A study about the impact of the pandemic on Suffolk students' mental health and well-being revealed 9% of them currently self-harm.

The Healthwatch Suffolk survey had responses from more than 4,500 students, 339 of which said they self-harm, with more than half of those, 175, identifying as LGBT*Q+.

The study also showed that 16% said they would prefer not to say and 75% said they do not currently self-harm.

Young people who preferred to describe their gender in another way were much more likely to be vulnerable to self-harm, than either male or female students.

Male students were least likely to say they currently self-harm.

Rates of reported current self-harm have increased in Suffolk since the 2019 ‘My Health, Our Future’ survey.

Results in 2019 indicated that 4% of males, 5% of females and 19% of those who preferred to describe their gender in their own way were currently self-harming.

In comparison, rates of self-reported current self-harm have doubled for female students and almost doubled for those who preferred to describe their gender in another way.

Andy Yacoub, chief executive Healthwatch Suffolk, said: "We know from our data that particular groups of young people continue to be disproportionately impacted by mental health and emotional wellbeing issues and it's an issue that requires ongoing, and specific, action to be taken by decision-makers across our health, care and education sectors. This is something that has been evident in our MHoF data since 2017.

"There are many factors that can influence the wellbeing of young people, but we know from our data that LGBT*Q+ young people are more likely to experience poorer outcomes across a range of measures. This includes that they are much less likely to seek support for their mental health because they are afraid of being judged and they are more likely to indicate anxiety about what would happen if they did talk to someone. LGBT*Q+ young people are also much more likely to say that they do not want their parents to find out about their poor mental health."

Bullying is almost certainly a contributing factor to poorer wellbeing, LGBT*Q+ students are twice as likely to have experienced bullying both inside and outside of school.

Healthwatch Suffolk said it is a "concerning" finding but it also a "consistent" finding when we looking at previous reports.

In 2019, one young person told the organisation "I self-harmed because of the bullying, I also got judged about my sexuality", revealing the relationship that may exist between bullying and self-harm for some LGBT*Q+ young people.

Mr Yacoub continued: "It is incumbent on us all to collectively make sure those young people who are most vulnerable to inequality are better supported as we find our way out of this pandemic. We must try to understand what is needed to prevent the overall wellbeing of our young people from dropping further and tackle key, long standing, concerns like bullying - considering how many of these issues extend beyond the school grounds."

How do you know if someone is self-harming?

It may be hard to identify if someone is self-harming as there may not be any warning signs.

However, some changes in behaviour that could occur include: changes in eating/sleeping habits, increased isolation, changes in activity and mood, lowering of academic grades, talking about self-harming or suicide, drug or alcohol abuse or expressing feelings of failure, uselessness or loss of hope or an unusual desire to dress to cover the body.

This is not an exhaustive list, but may help you spot some of the signs.

How to talk about self-harm

Conversations about self harm can be difficult to approach. The Suffolk Health and Wellbeing Board provides advice on their website as to how you can start a conversation.

They suggest emphasising your confidentiality, establishing a supportive rapport, finding out the nature of the self-harming and then progressing into the reasons behind it and what coping strategies and support they would be open to.

Suffolk County Council also created a short booklet aimed at providing support, information, and advice on the topic of self-harm, which can be found here: www.suffolkuserforum.co.uk/are-you-or-is-someone-you-care-about-self-harming