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Tackling self-harm effectively in schools
Self-harm is when someone hurts themselves usually to deal with difficult emotions. In most cases there is no suicidal intention, but this does not mean there is no risk, especially with 1 in 12 young people between 10 and 16 in Britain self-harming (Hawton, 2012), the highest rate in Europe. Within schools, management of self-harm in particular has been highlighted as a major area of concern.
So, what can teachers do about it? Teenage mental health charity stem4 and CEO/Founder Dr Nihara Krause who is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist offers advice on tackling self-harm in schools. Through knowing how to identify the signs of self-harm, having robust support systems in place and educating students on self-harm and how to manage it, schools can take positive steps to tackle self-harm in young people.
First, it is important to be able to identify incidences of self-harm. Schools have a safeguarding responsibility to deal as quickly and appropriately as possible with any situation in which the wellbeing of an individual student is threatened. This includes self-harm. Some signs:
1) Behavioural - Avoiding activities that require exposure of body. Wearing long sleeves even on very hot days. Increase in risk behaviours. Frequent absences from school or lack of engagement.
2) Physical - Cuts, bruises or marks, particularly if they occur frequently and in repeated areas of the body. Regular visits to A&E for injuries. Appearing tired and without energy or edgy and explosive.
3) Emotional - Being sad or withdrawn or easily irritable and angry.
4) Social - Friends presenting with concerns. Withdrawing from social groups, or having a social group that shows high risk behaviours or also self-harms. Not joining in social activities where clothes worn may show body, like party clothes.
In the case of identifying a student who may be struggling to manage self-harm, it is essential that staff are clear on how best to help. Ensuring there is a clear plan beforehand is crucial to helping young people as quickly as possible. The following tips should help ensure a robust support system:
1) Having a named teacher and peer supporter from a core team of trained staff.
2) Links should be established with local services to know what the referral pathways are and links with professionals who can evaluate risk.
3) A clear and effective system should be present to support any student who presents with self-harm, including supporting peers who are part of their group.
4) Schools should also aim to work in collaboration with parents and carers, whilst keeping the student’s best interests at heart.
Find out more about building school self-harm policies here.
Beyond identifying and acting on individual cases of self-harm, schools should provide mental health literacy on a variety of topics including self-harm:
1) This education should be offered to students by a professional in order to present an accurate but sensitive view of self-harm. It is not suitable to describe methods of self-harm as this can be triggering for many students who self-harm. stem4 can help with this through Head-ed, which includes a video and lesson plan about self-harm. Find out more here.
2) Signposts should be made available to students on who they can talk to, both within the school and locally through support services and GPs.
stem4’s Calm Harm app is an award winning, clinician-developed app with over a million downloads. Using ideas from the evidence-based therapy DBT, the app provides a range of targeted five or fifteen-minute activities to help alter thoughts, emotions and behaviours, enabling young people manage the urge to self-harm. Find out more here. Calm Cards are also now available for use in schools where phone use is restricted. stem4 also have a range of resources for schools.