Responding to people who self-harm - Top Tips for Teachers and others who work directly with young people
Following the release of hospital admission figures for intentional self-harm in November 2010, Paul Jenkins, chief executive from Rethink noted that self-harm continues to be most common in young people. The Royal College of Psychiatrists agrees saying that 1 in 10 young people will self-harm at some point.
Often teachers find they are the first people to notice the signs and so the responsibility falls to them to have that initial conversation with the young person. Obviously that conversation can’t remain confidential (the designated member of staff would be notified as part of the duty of care), but that doesn’t mean the conversation can’t be beneficial in its own right.
It can take a lot of courage for someone to talk about self-harming behaviour so it’s important that the experience is a positive one. These types of conversation generate huge anxiety and concern for staff and I frequently receive enquiries for training in this area. The following useful tips for teachers can make a conversation like this easier:
- Establish if the person has an immediate need for first aid, and if so, help them to get medical treatment.
- Listen to their worries and take them seriously. Show that you can see and care about the young person in pain behind the self-harm.
- Offer empathy and understanding – something different from what they might be used to receiving. Remember, a person who has self-harmed may feel ashamed and vulnerable. Don’t expect to ‘solve’ the problem – instead recognise the benefits that can come from allowing the person to externalize these difficult feelings and circumstances, perhaps for the first time.
- It might be useful to explore the following areas:
- current frequency and severity of self-harming behaviour
- any trends or patterns in the frequency or severity of self-harming over the years
- what self-harming gives them
- any attempts the individual has made to keep themselves safe or seek help following an episode of self-harm
- Explain to the young person the rules about confidentiality - be explicit about whom you will discuss or share information with and what will happen next.
- Stay calm and constructive. Make it clear that self-harm is okay to talk about, and can be understood. (To improve your knowledge of the subject download this excellent leaflet on self-harm from the Royal College of Psychiatrists).
- Convey your respect for the young person’s efforts to survive, even though this involves hurting themselves. They have done the best they could.
- Explore options - acknowledge how frightening it may be to think of living without self-harm.
- It may be some time before the young person sees a mental health professional. Encourage them to talk to you again if they need to and suggest they may like to read this leaflet from the Royal College of Psychiatrists and access any of the suggested help or support.
Remember this conversation might only be the start of a journey that takes a couple of years. It may be the first step on a road that leads a young person to find their own reasons for change and able to live a life without self-harm.
Interested in finding out more about our bespoke Inset day sessions on suicide and self-harm? Call us or email us today to discuss your training needs further.