Charities call for online self-harm support

According to research conducted by youth charities and organizations representing the UK, Denmark, Italy and Slovenia, more investment must be made into the provision of online support if the number of young people in Europe who self-harm is to be reduced.

It is estimated that 1 in 15 young people in Europe have self-harmed, and as many as 1 in 12 young people in the UK.

It has been debated whether the internet contributes to self-harm in young people, or whether the it instead offers an outlet for young people to gain advice, information and emotional support.

The findings have been compiled by UK charities YouthNet, Depaul UK and 42nd Street, and European partners The Associazione Photofficine Onlus (Italy), Cyberhus (Denmark) and The Institute for Research and Development ‘Utrip’ (Slovenia). Together they have developed a groundbreaking framework for practitioners by practitioners, which places online services at the centre of importance for the provision of support for young people who self-harm.

Sheila Hardy, nurse consultant and visiting fellow for primary care at the University of Northampton, says more investment could be made in online support both for health professionals and patients. ‘In my experience some practice nurses see self-harm as a condition rather than a way of expressing deep emotional feelings, and some may unfortunately see self-harming as attention seeking behaviour,’ she said. ‘I think the most important role for practice nurses is to be non-judgmental and view each person as an individual. If someone has self-harmed they are likely to be very distressed and this should be investigated. There are different degrees of self-harm. The practice nurse should assess whether the patient is already having help or needs referral for further care.’

One of the key justifications of the provision of online support comes in the anonymity that the internet affords. Having resources available online also makes support accessible wherever and whenever a person requires.

Emma Thomas is CEO of YouthNet, which runs TheSite.org, a website for 16-25 year olds. She spoke on behalf of the consortium saying: ‘Our collective research shows that many thousands of young people who self-harm use the internet to access information and support. More than 3,000 young people every month come to TheSite.org after using a search engine to learn about self-harm. We know from experience that for many young people it is the first step in seeking help. Online support services can play a key role in early intervention, helping to reduce self-harm and prevent the escalation of problems.’

Taken from Practice Nursing, published 14 Dec 2012.

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