Schools and professionals should be aware of hidden factors associated when young people help each other with issues around self-harm
That is one finding of a study conducted by Dr Jane Reichardt from the Barnet Educational Psychology Team into the school experiences of adolescents who have self-harmed. The study, which used a psychosocial methodology drawing on psychoanalytic ideas and conducted as part of the Doctorate in Child and Educational Psychology at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, interviewed five young people in depth who were receiving treatment for self-harm.
The study found that helping young people is a complex issue, particularly when other young people are involved. Participants expressed a strong sense of belonging and identification when another young person demonstrated understanding and was experiencing similar feelings to them.
However, the study found that talking with a friend could sometimes exacerbate an individual’s problems, leaving them feeling more depressed and less likely to pursue more appropriate support. In addition, a sense of isolation could be compounded if advice to stop self-harming wasn’t followed.
Dr Jane Reichardt said: “Previous research has suggested that young people prefer to receive help from other young people or cope alone. Schools need to be aware that if young people are finding solace from their problems in other troubled young people and disclosing self-harm, they may not be getting the right help they need to address the underlying issues.
“Educational psychologists have a key role to play in supporting school staff to think about systemic issues around supporting this vulnerable group, including how to provide a well-supported pastoral care system. In addition, staff require support to process and make sense of the anxieties evoked by working with this vulnerable group of people.”