Self-harm in young people is a serious concern but a deeper understanding of the functions of self-harm can tailor care and inform new clinical interventions to reduce repeat self-harm and suicide risk in young people. In the UK one in five young people who self-harm in general practice, repeat self-harm the following year. Reducing rates of self-harm in young people is an international priority.
In a recent qualitive study, supported by the SPCR, Faraz Mughal and colleagues interviewed 13 young people, aged between 16 and 25 years, with a personal history of self-harm. Interviews were analysed using reflexive thematic analysis.
Four distinct functions were identified: (1) handling emotional states; (2) self-punishment; (3) coping with mental illness and trauma; and (4) positive thoughts and protection. Young people valued GP-led support and felt future GP interventions should include self-help and be personalised.
Dr Faraz Mughal, GP and current NIHR Doctoral Fellow, School of Medicine, Keele University "I would like to thank the young people who offered their time to be interviewed. I think we are the first to describe the functions of self-harm in young people 16-25 years, and this is important, because clinical intervention and care should be tailored to what self-harm means to the young person. In primary care, GPs can use these functions to guide treatment in conjunction with the young person."