Archive for September, 2013

The Medical Profession And Self Harm

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Feedback and reports have shown a lack of self harm awareness in the medical profession and subsequent negative mistreatment of individuals who self harm. A GP or hospital personnel can be an individual’s only option at times, yet if the practitioner has no knowledge of how to approach self harm or fails to address the individual with respect and dignity, they cannot sufficiently help someone who self harms.

According to a recent documentary ‘Failed by the NHS’, exploring how young people suffering from mental illness fail to receive the correct treatment by NHS services, approximately 50% of patients who self harmed were not treated or seen to by medical services. This, according to Professor Nav Kapur University of Manchester, is “potentially a missed opportunity to prevent future self harm or even suicide.” Although the other half are seen to, it is the neglected amount which gives cause for concern. Rachel Jones, a recipient of anorexia, explains how visits to hospital focussed more on weight gain rather than addressing her mental health. The documentary sadly highlights the much needed care individuals require and how spending for the mental health service has dropped for the second year in a row causing insufficient care.

photo from:

photo from:

Feedback and reports of negative ways in which practitioners from the medical profession have reacted included: Showing visible shock or disgust, talking down to a person, blaming the individual for ‘wasting time’ and distracting from real medical emergencies and also insufficient treatment. These real life reactions can be the result of lack of self harm training and lack of self harm awareness on part of the medical profession. Staff nurse Jo McHale and lecturer Anne Felton carried out a study assessing self harm training within the medical profession and produced an interesting mix of promising and concerning results. Nurses, for example, felt that with lack of support in helping someone who self harms they experienced feelings of failing their duty of care, however with special education and training in self harm awareness they felt a more positive attitude as they were better informed of various ways of offering self harm help.

Some simple changes which could be implemented in order to provide patients help for self harm and better care in the medical profession, include:


  • Listening attentively to individuals and showing genuine concern in order to reassure them.
  • More staff receiving self harm awareness training
  • Acknowledgement that some individuals may not need psychiatric referral after the first visit.
  • Awareness that an individual’s reason for self harming may be different for each visit so incidents must be treated separately.
  • Staff receive more support from team members and senior managers in relation providing relevant and/or more appropriate for people who self harm
  • Staff receive training to manage their own emotions when dealing with someone who self harms


Many sectors of society including the medical profession must be fully trained and equipped in order to provide people self harm help and prevent neglect of mental health issues. With medical personnel receiving increased self harm training, it is hoped that patients will receive an improvement in treatment and services.


“Ask Jennifer” – Free Webinar: Self Harm and Self Injury

Date: 24 September 2013