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A recent survey found that young people who self-harm primarily turn to friends (one in three) and parents (one in four) for support. Formal sources of support, such as Child and Adolescent Mental Health services (CAMHS), psychologists, psychiatrists, or GPs, and online or phone-based services, were accessed by considerably fewer young people.

Two friends sit on a sofa and console each other

More than 10,000 young people aged 12-18 years have taken part in the OxWell Student Survey, which asked young people about their own health and wellbeing, at the end of the first COVID-19 lockdown (June-July 2020). 

13 percent of young people surveyed had self-harmed at some point in their life before June 2020, with 7 percent self-harming during the first national lockdown. 

Worryingly, the study found that almost 40 percent of adolescents received no support after they had self-harmed, which they felt wasn't a helpful way of coping. For those who sought support after self-harm, many turned to their friends (36 percent) and parents (25 percent), while formal sources of support such as CAMHS and GPs were accessed by far fewer adolescents (7-12 percent). Additionally, online or phone-based services were accessed by less than 10 percent of adolescents who had self-harmed.  

Concerns about burdening others was a commonly chosen reason for not seeking support (one in two young people). Other commonly chosen reasons related to shame (25-48 percent) and trust (40-41 percent). Only one in ten young people surveyed reported not accessing support because they did not know where to find it.


Professor Mina Fazel, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, said:


‘The OxWell Student Survey has given us so much important information about what young people want following self-harm. We need to make sure our services reflect these preferences to help identify ways to give direct support to these young people, which doesn’t make them feel like they are burdening those they turn to, be that friends, parents, other family members, or ‘busy’ health care services.’


Dr Galit Geulayov, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, said:



‘It is important to remember that for every young person who self-harms there may be many friends and family members who provide care and support, who may themselves experience significant distress. We need to continue to work with young people to better understand their support needs, as well as the support needs of their informal care providers.’


Associate Professor Rohan Borschmann, Senior Research Fellow, University of Melbourne, and visiting academic - Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, said:

‘Online and phone-based supports – most of which are readily available, anonymous, and free to use – were accessed by a small proportion of adolescents. They were also rated as the least helpful source of support. Uncovering the reasons for this is one of the urgent questions we’re focusing on with our most recent OxWell data.’


Read the complete report, Utilisation and acceptability of formal and informal support for adolescents following self-harm before and during the first COVID-19 lockdown: results from a large-scale English schools survey.



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