Understanding vulnerability to self-harm in times of economic hardship and austerity: a qualitative study.
Barnes MC., Gunnell D., Davies R., Hawton K., Kapur N., Potokar J., Donovan JL.
OBJECTIVE: Self-harm and suicide increase in times of economic recession, but little is known about why people self-harm when in financial difficulty, and in what circumstances self-harm occurs. This study aimed to understand events and experiences leading to the episode of self-harm and to identify opportunities for prevention or mitigation of distress. SETTING: Participants' homes or university rooms. PARTICIPANTS: 19 people who had attended hospital following self-harm in two UK cities and who specifically cited job loss, economic hardship or the impact of austerity measures as a causal or contributory factor. PRIMARY AND SECONDARY OUTCOME MEASURES: Semistructured, in-depth interviews. Interviews were audio recorded, transcribed and analysed cross-sectionally and as case studies. RESULTS: Study participants described experiences of severe economic hardship; being unable to find employment or losing jobs, debt, housing problems and benefit sanctions. In many cases problems accumulated and felt unresolvable. For others an event, such as a call from a debt collector or benefit change triggered the self-harm. Participants also reported other current or past difficulties, including abuse, neglect, bullying, domestic violence, mental health problems, relationship difficulties, bereavements and low self-esteem. These contributed to their sense of despair and worthlessness and increased their vulnerability to self-harm. Participants struggled to gain the practical help they felt they needed for their economic difficulties or therapeutic support that might have helped with their other co-existing or historically damaging experiences. CONCLUSIONS: Economic hardships resulting from the recession and austerity measures accumulated or acted as a 'final straw' to trigger self-harm, often in the context of co-existing or historically damaging life-experiences. Interventions to mitigate these effects should include providing practical advice about economic issues before difficulties become insurmountable and providing appropriate psychosocial support for vulnerable individuals.