Now, based on in-depth research with parents, a team from Oxford University’s Department of Psychiatry are launching a guide to help parents and carers who are trying to cope with this difficult situation.
Keith Hawton, Professor of Psychiatry, explains: ‘Young people often do it to deal with bad feelings, feelings of depression, anger, dislike of themselves. It may be done to show other people how bad the person is feeling or to get a sense of control over the person’s life. It may be done for reducing tension. Sadly, it can be a suicidal act and the person actually wants to die.’
The team found that parents who discover their child has self-harmed felt alone and isolated. Often, they did not know where to turn for help and support. It was that discovery that prompted the team to develop a free downloadable guide to provide advice and information for parents in this situation. The guide has information on topics including understanding self-harm, managing injuries, sources of help and looking after parents’ own needs.
Research coordinator Dr Anne Ferrey said: ‘We developed the guide based on current research on self-harm and on the interviews with parents. It contains quotes from them with advice for other parents as well as evidence-based information and links to sources of help.’
As well as information, the new resource provides a source of hope. Many of the parents interviewed had hope for the future and the team’s aspiration is that this will enable other parents to feel some optimism.
One parent said of their daughter: ‘I see the future as like a contour map - she will continue to get better and she will have long periods where life is good.’
Videos of some of the interviews are also available online here through Health Talk.
Professor Keith Hawton says: ‘We know that most young people will stop self-harming, perhaps in a few weeks, a few months and sometimes a few years. In a minority it will become part of a longer-term pattern of behaviour, and for some it may indicate longer-term emotional problems, but for the vast majority, self-harm will stop.’