Making time to stop self-harm

Sec-Ed reports that self-harm among young people is on the rise, with potentially devastating consequences. Karen Sullivan looks at the statistics and suggests what role schools can play to tackle this danger

There can be few acts perpetrated by adolescents (or, indeed, anyone else) that are as distressing as self-harm, and yet, fed by an increasing sense of isolation and desperation and the wealth of inflammatory material on the internet (leading, of course, to it seeming almost “trendy”), it is becoming a serious, growing problem that shows no signs of abating.

One recent study, Self-harm in Adolescence: Protective health assets in the family, school and community (Klemera et al, 2016) suggests that self-harm becomes increasingly common between 12 and 15 years of age, with more girls than boys at risk.

However, this pattern seems to change with age, with the later teenage years reversing that trend. One of the outcomes of the research is confirmation that “connections with others and a sense of belonging” is significant for adolescent health and wellbeing, and in particular apart from parent relationships, young people’s sense of belonging and connectedness to school and the wider neighbourhood appears to be a “strong health asset protecting from self-harm”.

Evidence from the Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children (HBSC) study team at the University of Hertfordshire states that “educational settings play a crucial role in promoting wellbeing in young people and preventing the development of mental health problems”. Their findings, published in the International Journal of Public Health, suggest that young people are nearly seven times more likely to self-harm if they have a low sense of belonging to school, than those who feel attached to it.

They point to the latest HBSC study in England, which reveals that 11 per cent of boys and 32 per cent of girls aged 15 report that they have self-harmed, with 
43 per cent claiming to do so once a month. The HBSC study team concludes that focusing on early prevention and intervention can make a difference. They emphasise the importance of education providers “embedding a positive ethos and culture of community within schools as a means to tackle the growing problem”.

One of the most obvious solutions, they go on to say, is to use PSHE education to promote good health. Their research suggest that 74 per cent of young people who attended PSHE lessons (boys and girls) felt that they helped them to look after their own health (and improved their skills and abilities to consider the importance of their own health).

If you’ve timetabled PSHE lessons, it seems obvious not only that self-harm should be covered, but that mental health and dealing with stress and feelings of worthlessness and despair need to be addressed too; that a spirit of support and connection is engendered in these classes and across the school as a whole. If PSHE is not in the curriculum at your school, time should be made, in form periods or elsewhere, to draw attention to this problem.

Read more Making time to stop self-harm

Is self-harm covered in your schools PSHE lessons? What else can be done to stop this growing problem?

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Categories: Health, Mental Health, Secondary and Teaching.


  1. Busy Mum

    Self-harm is just the new drug. If their bodies are theirs, and they have absolute rights over their bodies (which is the argument given in support of drugs, fornication, abortion etc) why on earth should pesky interfering adults try and dictate to teenagers what they should be doing with their arms? Sorry fellow adults, but just because the self-harm is abhorrent to you, you have totally lost any moral authority when it comes to teenage behaviour!

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