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Charity Calls for Better Response to Self-Harm

The authors of a two-year inquiry, backed by the Mental Health Foundation and the Camelot Foundation, have called on the UK Government to launch a national initiative to develop better and more appropriate responses to young people who self-harm, starting with an awareness campaign targeted at professionals, parents and young people.

We received the following press release directly from the Mental Health Foundation:

Mental Health Foundation Press Release

The National Inquiry today called on the Government to launch a UK-wide initiative to develop better and more appropriate responses to young people who self-harm, starting with an awareness campaign targeted at professionals, parents and young people.

The recommendation is made in Truth Hurts, the final report by the National Inquiry into self-harm, which reveals that young people who self-harm are more likely to turn to friends their own age for help, rather than relatives, teachers or GPs. Widespread misunderstandings about self-harm among professionals and relatives are preventing young people who self-harm from seeking and getting support. Yet little information is available to help parents and professionals learn to deal with self-harm effectively.

According to the Truth Hurts report, professionals and adults often react inappropriately to disclosure of self-harm, which frequently makes the situation worse. There is a tendency for adults to focus solely on the self-harming behaviour rather than the underlying causes. Young people often hurt themselves for long periods of time without ever disclosing their self-harm.

The two-year Inquiry, jointly run by the Camelot Foundation and the Mental Health Foundation, has found that health, education and social care professionals are not receiving the guidance or formal training they need to support young people who self-harm. Nor do professionals feel they receive sufficient personal support to deal with self-harm cases. The Inquiry reveals that education professionals would like information and advice about self-harm to be provided in all schools across the UK.

The Inquiry has learned that a number of circumstances can lead a person to begin self-harming, such as being bullied at school, not getting on with parents, anxiety about academic performance, parental divorce, bereavement, unwanted pregnancy, experience of sexual, physical or emotional abuse in earlier childhood, and difficulties associated with sexuality.

Self-harm is a coping mechanism which enables a person to express difficult emotions. Young people who hurt themselves often feel that physical pain is easier to deal with than the emotional pain they are experiencing, because it is tangible. But the behaviour only provides temporary relief and fails to deal with the underlying issues that a young person is facing.

According to Truth Hurts, stopping or reducing self-harming behaviour is a long process. Alternative coping strategies need to be learned to deal with difficult life circumstances and emotions. The Inquiry’s research says that young people seeking help would like counselling, drop in centres and facilitated self-help groups to be made available. The report asserts that schools provide an appropriate setting in which young people would like to see external individuals and organisations, independent of schools, provide information and advice.

Chair of the Inquiry, Catherine McLoughlin CBE, said; “It is vital that everyone who comes into contact with young people has a basic understanding of what self-harm is, why people do it, and how to respond appropriately. At the very least they should avoid being judgemental towards young people who disclose self-harm, should treat them with care and respect and should acknowledge the emotional distress they are clearly experiencing.”

Susan Elizabeth, Director of the Camelot Foundation said: “There is an urgent need to provide information and guidance for parents and carers, friends and professionals – people are struggling in the dark. We must rid the fear, misunderstanding and stigma that surrounds self-harm.”

Dr Andrew McCulloch, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said: “Self-harm is evidently a symptom of mental and emotional distress. We need to look past the behaviour and provide understanding, support and effective services for young people in the UK.”

Self-Harm Facts

  • Self-harm describes the various things that some young people do to harm themselves in a deliberate and usually hidden way. The most common methods involve cutting; burning; scalding, banging or scratching one’s own body; breaking bones; hair pulling; and ingesting toxic substances or objects to cause discomfort or damage.
  • The research evidence reviewed by the National Inquiry suggests that 1 in 15 young people have self-harmed in the UK.
  • More than 24,000 teenagers are admitted to hospital in the UK each year after deliberately harming themselves (Samaritans & Centre for Suicide, University of Oxford, 2002).
  • The average age for children starting to self-harming is thirteen years old, but children as young as 7 years have been found to self-harm (Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2002).

About the Report and its Sponsors

The Truth Hurts report is free and available to download from www.selfharmUK.org and www.mentalhealth.org.uk

Truth Hurts is the final report by the National Inquiry into self-harm among young people aged 11-25 years old. The Camelot Foundation and the Mental Health Foundation have jointly led the two-year Inquiry.

The Camelot Foundation is one of the UK’s most imaginative grant making foundations. With an annual donation of £2 million from Camelot Group plc, the Foundation works to support marginalised young people across the UK. Using a combination of grant giving and direct programme development, the Foundation aims to make a real difference to the lives of the most disadvantaged young people and to show that they have a positive role to play in shaping their own futures and the future of their communities.

The Mental Health Foundation uses research and practical projects to help people survive, recover from and prevent mental health problems. We work to influence policy, including government at the highest levels. And we use our knowledge to raise awareness and to help tackle the stigma attached to mental illness. We reach millions of people every year through our media work, information booklets and online services.

Catherine McLoughlin CBE is chairing the two-year Inquiry. Catherine currently holds a number of chairmanships including Chair of the Nurses’ Welfare Service and Deputy Chair to the Nursing and Midwifery Council (Practitioners’ Panel).

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