In 2006, The Mental Health Foundation reported that 1 in 12 young people self-harm. This year, YoungMinds, a mental health and emotional wellbeing charity dedicated to children and young people, have been working in conjunction with Cello PLC’s ‘Talking Taboos’ campaign to conduct extensive research into self-harm in young people. The published report entitled, ‘Talking Self-Harm’, detailed that inpatient admissions over the last year alone have risen by 10% in under young people under the age of 25. It is likely however, that numerous young people coping with self-harm remain undetected for a number of reasons addressed below, and therefore these statistics are likely to underestimate those affected.
‘Talking Self-Harm’ details that two thirds of teachers, parents and young people who took part in the research feel more uncomfortable talking about self-harm than other issues such as eating disorders, drug use, smoking, bullying and binge drinking. They would additionally be concerned that they would say the wrong thing if a young person who self-harmed turned to them. Whilst young people reportedly feel most comfortable approaching the internet for help regarding self-harm, this may be detrimental as the information available online is variable and can present dismissive attitudes rather than supportive attitudes. 50% of young people included in the research acknowledge that they should in fact be approaching parents and GPs for help instead of the internet, however only 10% said they would feel comfortable doing this.
Regarding groups in a position to offer help to a young person affected by self-harm, parents typically reported that they would perceive self-harm in a young person as failure as a parent, and a third of parents would not seek help with a health care professional. Almost half of the GPs reported that they did not really understand young people who self-harm, whilst a third were concerned about what language to use when consulting with a young person about self-harm. Teachers reported feeling ‘helpless’ on the issue and the majority expressed that they would like clear practical advice and materials to help young people address self-harm. All groups reportedly have trouble empathising with young people who self-harm.
These points highlight serious weaknesses in the social support network and the professional help that should be available to young people who self-harm and furthermore exposes the need for us all to talk more about this sensitive topic so that we can more readily support those who need it. It is not surprising that nearly 4 out of 5 young people who completed the research said they don’t know where to turn to for advice about self-harm. It is apparent that although most people acknowledge the seriousness of self-harm, too many feel they are not in a position to offer appropriate help and support. The report calls for increased awareness and handling of self-harm in young people if we are to break down the barriers and stigma that currently prevent people from seeking and receiving the help and support they need.
PhD Student (Division of Psychiatry)
Institute of Mental Health
The Mental Health Foundation ‘Truth Hurts’ report is freely available at:
The YoungMinds and Cello PLC’s Talking Taboos ‘Talking Self-Harm’ report is freely available at:
A BBC interview with a woman coping with self-harm is available at: