Comprehensive support needed for parents with children who self-harm

Comprehensive support needed for parents with children who self-harm

25 June 2020

When confronted with self-harming behaviour in their children, parents often struggle with their own distress and feel poorly equipped to provide the help the young person needs, a new study by Orygen researchers has found.

Published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, the research, emerged from the development of a resource to help family members better support young people who engage in self harm.

Orygen research fellow Karolina Krysinska, who led the research, said a team at Oxford University in the UK, who had developed a ‘coping with self-harm’ resource for parents, approached Orygen to see if researchers would like to collaborate on developing an Australian version.

“Having identified a large gap in self-harm resources available to parents and families of young people in Australia, we saw this as an important opportunity to develop an Australian version of Coping with self-harm: A guide for parents and carers,” Dr Krysinska said.

“So, we consulted widely with both Australian parents and young people about their thoughts and experiences around understanding self-harm behaviour,” she said.

The study identified six key themes that reflected the experience and needs of parents supporting young people who self-harm. These ranged from the need to learn about self-harming behaviour to the challenges it imposed on the relationship between the parent and young person. The study also revealed that parents needed support to better understand their emotional reactions to self-harm, and stressed the importance of parents’ self-care and help-seeking.

“Parents are a primary source of support for young people who self-harm and play a critical role in ensuring young people’s wellbeing,” Dr Krysinska said.

She said the resource provided parents practical tools and strategies to help their young person who was engaging in self-harm.

“We know that parents are often afraid about talking about self-harm in case it puts ideas into young people's heads.”

“We wanted to empower parents, to give them the confidence to be able to feel that they could have a conversation about self-harm with their young person, rather than being afraid to bring it up.

“It is essential that parents are provided with support and information needed to assist their young person, but it should not be left not up to parents alone. Mental health services and other frontline service providers can also play a vital role in providing support to families, including access to educational information resources,” Dr Krysinska said.

This research was funded by the Western Australia Primary Health Alliance as part of the National Suicide Prevention Trial, Future Generation Global, and The William Buckland Foundation. The original guide was produced with funding provided by the National Institute for Health Research (UK).