I am a psychologist by training, and completed my PhD, on social and emotional difficulties in adolescents with language impairments, at the University of Manchester in 2008. Since then, I moved to the University of Nottingham to work on a research project with teenagers with Tourette syndrome. Now I work as a Research Fellow on the ‘Listen-up’ project: understanding and helping looked-after young people who self harm, led by Dr Ellen Townsend at the University of Nottingham.
Why I wanted to do research about self harm
I am interested in lots of different aspects of emotional health and social well-being in adolescence. I became involved in research on self harm for a number of reasons. Firstly, some of the young people involved in my previous research self harmed, and I wanted to learn more about it. Secondly, self harm is something that can affect anyone; it does not fit into a “neat” diagnostic box and as such can be overlooked both in clinical practice and research. Finally, the ‘Listen-up’ research project offered the opportunity to be involved in a truly neglected area of self harm research, with young people in foster or residential care. This research has the potential to really make a difference in terms of self harm policy and practice.
Why I like doing self harm research
My research has involved doing in-depth interviews with young people who self harm. Basically this involves sitting down with someone and saying “tell me about your experiences of self harm”. Compared to doing surveys and questionnaires, this approach gives much more detailed insight into what psychologists call the “lived experience” of self harm. But, on a more personal level, this provides the opportunity to really listen to what young people have to say about self harm. Of course, I hear about people’s struggles and problems, but I also hear stories of strength, resilience and determination. I am very grateful to all the young people who have given their time and shared their experiences with me. I have also enjoyed collaborating with Harmless during this research, especially working with the project’s advisory group of young people.
What I would like to do next
At the moment I am busy writing up our research findings for publication as reports in scientific journals. The research team, with the help of our advisory group, will be making policy recommendations for self harm support. We will also share our findings with young people and carers, as well as social care and mental health practitioners. Then I would like to do more research on self harm. I am particularly interested in the role schools can play in providing support for self harm, but also in addressing the stigma around self harm and emotional health more generally. I also think it is really important to ask young people what their priorities for research are, which is something I hope to explore in the near future.