Self Harm: What should school staff be aware of?

Self harm is an increasing problem among children and young people and schools are on the front-line. Child and educational psychologist Dr Joanna Mitchell offers some advice on spotting the signs and how to respond.

Self harm is a concerning reality for teachers, parents and professionals working with children and young people today.

Recent statistics conclude that rates have increased in the UK and are now among the highest in Europe. According to the National Institute for Care and Excellence, the risk of suicide has also increased (NICE 2013).

Studies conclude that between 10 and 12 per cent of young people self harm, but the true incidence is largely unknown as many young people do not present for help.

A recent poll commissioned by ChildLine, YouthNet, SelfHarmUK and YoungMinds revealed that of the 2,000 children and young people surveyed, over half of the 11 to 14-year-olds reported having self harmed, or knowing someone who had. Equally, eight out of ten 18 to 21-year-olds say they have self harmed or know someone who has (reported by NSPCC on Self Harm Awareness day – March 1, 2015).

The predominant reason young people give for not reporting their self harm is the concern that they will not be listened to or that they will be misunderstood.

Yet at the same time self harm is the one issue that all groups (young people, parents and professionals) feel least comfortable approaching. Parents tend to associate young people self harming with failing as a parent, and teachers feels helpless and unsure about what to say. Other research has found that three in five GPs do not know what language to use when talking about self harm with young people.

Children and young people’s general mental health continues to be a concern at both political, social and community levels. Below are some key principles for school staff in how to understand and mange this complex psychological and social phenomenon.

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