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Background Self-harm in young people is a serious concern but a deeper understanding of the functions of self-harm in young people can tailor care and inform new clinical interventions to reduce repeat self-harm and suicide risk. General practitioners (GPs), as frontline healthcare professionals, have an important role in managing self-harm in young people. This study aimed to explore the functions of self-harm in young people and their perspectives on future GP-led care. Methods A qualitative study using interviews with young people aged between 16 and 25 years with a personal history of self-harm was conducted. Interviews were transcribed and analysed using reflexive thematic analysis. Findings 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. Conclusions These findings support clinicians, including GPs, to explore the functions of self-harm in young people aged 16–25 in a personalised approach to self-harm care. It should be noted that self-harm may serve more than one function for a young person and thus interventions should recognise this. Patient and Public Contribution A group consisting of young people with lived experience of self-harm, carers, the public, and those who work with young people who harm themselves conceived this study idea, informed recruitment methods and the interview topic guide, and supported the interpretation of findings.

More information Original publication



Journal article


Wiley Online Library


John Wiley & Sons Ltd

Publication Date



general practitioners , interviews , nonsuicidal self-injury , self-injurious behaviour , suicide attempt , young adult