The functions of self-harm in young people and their perspectives about future general practitioner-led care: A qualitative study
Faraz Mughal received funding for NIHR School for Primary Care Research. Grant Number: SCPR-1572020-20
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.