With incidences of self-harm among young people seemingly on the rise, it is becoming increasingly important for those who live and work with them to be able to offer them the help and support they need. Yet many of those involved still cannot provide that support – and this has to change.

Figures released last week by ChildLine show a 68% increase in the number of young people who have self-harmed and have contacted the charity in the past year.

This figure is worrying. In general, incidences of self-harm were down to troubled family relationships, violence, alcohol, bullying and secrecy, ChildLine reported.

Providing more support for young people who self-harm – including addressing the root causes – has to become more of a priority for local health and social care services, teachers and parents.

But it also appears that many people to whom young people may turn for advice – GPs, teachers, parents – still do not know how to effectively help them.

Mental health charity YoungMinds’ recent report with the Cello Group ‘Talking Self-Harm’ revealed that:
• A third of parents would not seek professional help if their child was self-harming
• Almost half of GPs feel that they don’t understand young people who self-harm and their motivations
• Two in three teachers don’t know what to say to young people who self-harm.

These uncertainties about services and gaps in awareness have to be addressed. Self-harm is becoming an increasing problem among young people, and those who they may turn to have to be able to give them the help and support they need in what is a troubled time in their lives. One of the worst things that can happen for a young person who is self-harming is that when they do open up to someone – in itself a difficult thing to do – they are met with a lack of understanding.

Greater training and better access to information will be essential in addressing this issue. Understanding what self-harm is – including the fact that it isn’t just about cutting, nor is it usually an attempt at suicide – and recognising what motivates such behaviour, as well as knowing where to access more support, are all crucial to helping young people who self-harm.

Such things as online information portals, more CPD-accredited training courses for healthcare professionals (traditional or online) targeted information, or a combination of those approaches, are needed, and it is up to statutory services, public and private sector organisations and charities to ensure that they are available. 

But whatever is developed should be produced in partnership with those who know best – young people who self-harm.