A disturbing new study has found evidence of self-harm among primary school children.

Researchers at the University of Melbourne and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) have assessed more than 1,200 children living in Melbourne each year from age 8-9 years  to 11-12 years.

The study found three per cent of students reported self-harm in grade 6, at age 11 and 12 years. Of those who self-harmed, two thirds were females and one third were males.

The study of children in grades 3-5 revealed predictors of future self-harm in grade 6 included persistent symptoms of depression or anxiety, bullying and alcohol consumption.

Other symptoms included associations with self-harm were having few friends, poor emotional control, engaging in anti-social behaviour and being in mid-late puberty.

Participants who reported having few friends, and those who had experienced bullying victimisation, were seven and 24 times more likely to have self-harmed at age 11-12 years, respectively.

In terms of mental health, participants who self-harmed were also more than seven times more likely to report depressive symptoms and five times more likely to report anxiety than their peers who had not self-harmed.

Lead researcher Dr Rohan Borschmann said the findings suggest that mental health, puberty and peer relationships are most strongly associated with self-harm among primary school-aged children.

“Previous studies have focused specifically on children who have sought treatment for mental health problems, or focused on adolescents and young people,” Dr Borschmann said.

“Ours is the first study to estimate the prevalence of self-harm among primary school-aged children in the general community, and it sheds light on the impact of peer relationship (including bullying), mental health problems, and puberty on children.

“The transition from childhood to adolescence is a critical time for kids and challenging experiences can have a huge impact on their self-esteem and friendships during this development phase.”

The study also highlights the importance of early intervention strategies being introduced in primary school.

The study is accessible here.