MORE pupils are self-harming and avoiding school as they struggle to cope with the mental pressures of modern childhood.

A new report has revealed that the rate of social, emotional and mental health needs of Oxfordshire pupils is 'increasing and above the national average', just as a new service launches over fears children are 'falling through the gaps.'

One mother has even told of how she took her daughter out of school, after bullying left her in tears every day.

Last year 2,512 children at schools in the county had identified social, emotional and mental health needs, up from 2,434 in 2017.

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The report highlighted a 'significant increase in the number of young people referred for mental health services in Oxfordshire in recent years' but added: "It is possible that increases in diagnoses are partly due to increased awareness and reduced stigma."

The updated Joint Strategic Needs Assessment, published on the county council's Oxfordshire Insight website, also noted that mental health issues have increased nationally.

However, the county's rate of children referred was 2.7 per cent of school-age children, above the national figure of 2.4 per cent.

Thursday will mark World Mental Health Day, and this year’s focus is on suicide prevention.

The rate of 10-24 year-olds hospitalised due to self harm in Oxfordshire is 'now significantly higher than England', the report said, with 619 admissions in 2016-17.

Halima Banaras said her daughter was 'emotionally distraught' after being bullied at an Oxford school, and she has been trying to find a place elsewhere after pulling her out in January.

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The mother-of-two, who lives in Cowley, said: "She would come home daily, stressed and in tears.

"It would take every ounce of my energy to calm her down and get her to go back the next day."

Ms Banaras said her daughter, now 14, was 'shocked' after older boys called her called a 'slut' and 'whore'.

The mother added that, at primary school, her daughter was even physically strangled by bullies.

She said: "I couldn't afford for her to carry on suffering. At least at home she would be safe."

Ms Banaras said that decision came after police involvement and months of calls, emails and meetings with the school, which made her daughter feel 'even more upset and distressed'.

She said the bullying started in their neighbourhood but seeped into school, with social media like Snapchat and WhatsApp fuelling the problem.

Yesterday marked the launch of a new volunteer-led service called Oxfordshire Discovery College, supported by mental health charity Elmore Community Services.

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It will put on workshops and activities to help children, their families and friends using a peer support model.

The college's founder Laura Harte said: "Local services are doing great work with young people in this area, but they are stretched to capacity."

City councillor Tom Hayes, chief executive of Elmore, added: "Elmore is seeing large numbers of children and young people fall through the gaps in services.

"[The college] is working hard and fast to open their doors to people who desperately need their expertise and care."

Many schools are teaching children techniques to encourage healthy minds, including Bladon CE Primary School in West Oxfordshire.

PE teacher Matt Gregor, the school's mental health and wellbeing lead, ran a workshop last month to share good practice with other teachers and parents.

He said: "Children these days seem to have more stresses and worries than when I was a child.

"If we can support them at a younger age, by the time they get to secondary school, it's going to be a lot easier for them to understand how important it is to talk and where to turn to get support."

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He said rural communities seemed to have more limited access to mental health services when compared to Oxford.

Child and adolescent psychiatrist Hayley van Zwanenberg, of Priory’s Wellbeing Centre in Oxford, cited social anxiety as a frequent cause of visits by under-18s.

She said: "It can get to the point where even thinking about going out to see a close friend could bring on intense worry and physical changes that are not tolerable.

"They gradually begin to avoid certain aspects of school, then perhaps school altogether, as that is the only way for them to feel relatively safe."

Dr van Zwanenberg said anxiety is 'very treatable,' however.

Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust is in the midst of a pilot to cut waiting times by 2021, for children who need support from its mental health services.

Yesterday saw the launch of a £35m government-backed research programme, aiming to give more support to teenagers battling mental health issues.