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Talking: Self-Harm

Talking Self-Harm is a ground-breaking year long research study, working in partnership with teen mental health charity, YoungMinds. It explores society’s perceptions of young people who self-harm and the current barriers that exist between providing the help they so clearly need.

Self-Harm is the No.1 concern that young people have about their peers

This is among a list that includes gangs, bullying, drug use and binge drinking.

Normally young people are less concerned than GPs, teachers and parents about issues, but self-harm is the one issue where everyone shares an equally high level of concern. Over 80% of young people would be very worried if they knew that a friend was self-harming, compared to 50% who would be worried about an eating disorder.

People feel least comfortable talking about self-harm with young people

Two in three teachers, parents and young people think that they would say the wrong thing if someone turned to them.

Current understanding about self-harm is unbalanced and incomplete

It can be viewed as too serious or too trivial to prompt action:

Over half of GPs, teachers and parents think that young people who self-harm are likely to try and commit suicide Also, almost half of these groups see self-harm as a way to manipulate others. While there is also considerable sympathy towards young people who self-harm, all groups (professionals included) struggle to empathise with young people who are harming themselves. Almost half of GPs feel they do not really understand young people who self-harm.

Stigma around self-harm leaves little room for open communication

There is little open communication around self-harm and considerable scope for stigma and fear.

Parents associate a young person self-harming with failed parenting and shame; many are frightened to let the issue ‘out of the home’ over a third say they would not seek professional help.

Teachers feel helpless and unsure as to what they can say; 80% want clear practical advice and materials that they can share directly with young people.

Three in five GPs report they are concerned that they do not know what language to use when talking to a young person about self-harm.

Nearly four in five young people say they don’t know where to turn to with questions relating to self-harm. There is a stark difference between the places young people feel comfortable seeking support (online) and the places they believe they should be going (parents, teachers or GPs) when it comes to self-harm.

The range of information online can vary from supportive to dismissive, from inciting self-harm to mocking and ridiculing those who do it.

When a young person looks for information, or information finds a young person, it’s a game of chance as to whether that information will be measured and helpful, or part of an extreme negative view.

A strong desire to break the silence around self-harm

There is a strong desire to break the conspiracy of silence around self-harm so people feel more able to seek and provide support.

The number one reason parents, teachers, young people and GPs think young people who self-harm stop doing so is that they find better ways to cope with the emotions associated with it, principally through getting support. As such, the overwhelming majority (between 80% to 90% of all groups) want to open the dialogue so young people know where they can turn to. 97% of young people believe that self-harm should be addressed in schools, with two in three feeling that it should be part of lessons. Greater teaching around emotional awareness and literacy appears a strong and obvious platform for raising the topic of self-harm in context. There is a desire to have more conversation and action to help young people. The majority of people believe that they need to be able to offer support to young people who self-harm but nobody feels empowered to act.


  • Raising awareness and understanding about self-harm
  • Online support in places where young people look
  • Resilience building and mental health promotion in schools to provide consistent language that teachers can use when talking to young people about self-harm
  • Information for parents to help them understand what self-harm is, why young people do it and how they can provide and get additional support
  • Training, assessment tools, referral options and access to talking therapies for health care professionals
  • Child and adult health care professionals must work together more effectively to support patients through the transition to adulthood – a time when referrals /services become limited

Download the full report PDF here