Pubdate: Sun, 27 June 1999
Source: Sunday Times (UK)
Copyright: 1999 Times Newspapers Ltd.
Author: Sue Leonard, Scottish Health Correspondent


ACADEMIC pressures, bullying and problems with teachers are driving a
growing number of schoolchildren to take drug overdoses.

Last year 90 secondary school pupils were treated at one Scottish hospital
after taking drugs - mostly paracetamol - because they felt they could no
longer cope.

Children's groups and mental health organisations expressed serious concern
about the study at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

Anne Houston, director of ChildLine Scotland, said: "ChildLine hears from
hundreds of children and young people every year who tell us that they have
tried to harm themselves in some way. They tell us that they feel so
desperate that they want to self-harm as a way of releasing pent-up

The study, to be published this week, showed that 73% of the children
admitted to the poisons unit at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in the school year
1997/98 had problems with some aspect of their school life.

During that period there were 122 admissions involving 90 children. All but
12 were deliberate overdoses. Twenty per cent of those admitted regularly
played truant from school, while 14% had been expelled when they were
admitted to hospital.

Problems with teachers and fellow pupils were prominent - 10% reported they
had been bullied and 13% complained of excessive academic pressures. A
mental disorder was diagnosed in 43% of the schoolchildren, 75% of whom were

A separate analysis by doctors also revealed a sixfold rise in admissions of
13-to 17-year-olds to the unit in the past three decades. It jumped from 39
in 1968 to 241 last year. Adolescents accounted for 9% of all admissions to
the poisons unit in 1998 compared with 4% three decades ago.

Dr Alan Doris, a specialist registrar in psychiatry, will present the
findings of the study to the Royal College of Psychiatrists' annual meeting
in Birmingham later this week. Doris said the results were preliminary and
that it was too early to draw conclusions or hypotheses.

But he said he was struck by the dramatic rise in the number of young people
poisoning themselves. "It is a very dangerous thing for people to do. We do
not know why there is this increase. The aim of the study was to quantify

Anne Stafford, from the charity Children First, said: "Bullying and school
pressures are very real issues for children. I think there is an onus on
each of us as parents and teachers to listen carefully to what our children
are trying to tell us so we can pick up potential difficulties as early as

Dr Geoff Scobie, a specialist in social psychology, said the fun and
excitement was being taken out of education and replaced by a fear of

He said: "It has become more important for children to do well. We have made
things such a struggle, the joy of discovery has been lost."

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