GPs admit failure to understand self-harm

By Lauren Higgs

| 23 October 2012

Almost half of GPs don't understand what drives young people self-harm and two thirds of teachers would be unsure about how to broach the issue with pupils, a survey has found.

Pressures and feelings of isolation are increasingly seeing young people turn to self-harm. Image: Young Minds

The study of 2,500 GPs, teachers, parents and young people, carried out by marketing company Cello and the charity Young Minds, also found that a third of parents would not seek professional help if their child was self-harming, while three quarters of young people don’t know where to turn to talk about self-harm.

Of the GPs questioned in the research, three out of five said they were worried about what language to use in discussing the issue, while more than eight out of ten said they have not had the necessary training to deal with self-harm.

Only one in three teachers said they would be comfortable covering the topic of self-harm in lessons, despite the fact that 97 per cent of young people said self-harm should be addressed in schools.

Meanwhile, just ten per cent of young people said they were comfortable seeking self-harm advice from teachers, parents or GPs.

Lucie Russell, director of policy at Young Minds said the report should “set alarm bells ringing”, given that self-harm inpatient admissions have increased by 68 per cent over the last ten years.

“More and more young people are self-harming as a coping mechanism and parents and professionals are very frightened about how to respond,” she said.

“Young people often talk for the first time about self-harm to teachers, parents and GPs. It is vital that we increase the knowledge and capability of parents and professionals so that they are able to support the thousands of young people who are suffering intense internal pain that’s manifested externally.”

Professor Sue Bailey, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said professionals must “set aside the rhetoric about self-harm”.

“The best way to deal with a concern is to take decisive action in partnership with young people,” she said.

“As a child and adolescent psychiatrist about to undertake further research in this area, I recognise that increasing awareness and understanding of self-harm is very important.

“But we must also ensure that child and adolescent mental health services are properly resourced so they can provide the kind of specialist support that helps young people to recover.”

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