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Self-Harm in Schools

Duncan Law (Consultant Clinical Associate, Anna Freud National Centre for Children & Families & Director of MindMonkey Associatesand Kate Martin (Tutor at the Anna Freud National Centre for Children & Families & Director of Common Room) discuss self harm and list some actions that can be helpful in guiding school staff to assist a young person who has experienced self-harm.

Teachers on the front line

Teachers and other school staff are the front line on many mental health issues and this is certainly true of self-harm.  Unlike most mental health issues that are hidden and often go unnoticed – self-harm, such as cutting, gives a visible sign that something is ‘not OK’.  It is a communication and often an invitation to help.

The YoungMinds/Cello Talking Self Harm report found that Self-harm is the issue that teachers feel least comfortable approaching with young people

  • 60% of teachers say they don’t feel able to talk about self-harm.
  • Two in three teachers thought they would say something wrong that they would say the wrong thing if someone turned to them for help with self-harm
  • 80% of teachers said they wanted practical advice on how to help

What can teachers and frontline school staff do to help?

School staff shouldn't feel responsible for sorting out all the problems for the young person – this may need more specialist help and time than you can provide (although school staff do a huge amount of good work dealing with young peoples mental health all the time!!)

The good news is there are some simple things you can do that can really help:

  • Don't panic! The worst thing you can do is to do nothing and ignore the self-harm – talking about the problem will not encourage more self-harm
  • Speak with the young person – invite them to tell you about the self-harm and any problems or worries they might want to share  - this should be an invitation and not a demand to share everything, it may take a few invitations to talk before the young person feels able to risk sharing with you - the most important thing you can do it offer to listen
  • Don't tell them to “just stop doing it” the self-harm will always be of great importance to the young person and may be their only coping mechanism  - so just stopping might leave them more at risk
  • Make a plan  - this might be as simple as making anoth time to listen or the pan might be to make a referral on  - what is important is that you and the young person discuss and (ideally) agree the plan
  • If someone is actively suicidal: they areclear they want to die, they have a plan and intend to act on that plan immediately, make sure someone stays with them – you still have time to seek advice as long as they are kept safe with someone.  If the young person has already taken an overdose - or if you suspect have might have - get them to A&E for medical assessment and treatment for the poisoning
  • Share with someone – always speak to colleagues in school and ideally speak to your local CAMHS team for advice  - your local safeguarding protocol will also mean you have to share with a parent or carer  - be clear with the young person why you are doing this and give them choices about how you might tell parents
  • Act – do what you have agreed – even the best plans don't always go to plan  - but do what you can as soon as you can
  • Let them know what you have done and what you haven’t managed to do yet, and why
  • Stay in the loop  - if the local CAMHS or Social Care start work with the young person – school still has a great deal to offer – it is important for the young person that schools and specialist services continue to communicate and work together in the interest of the young person  


Further information and training

Further self-harm training for front line school staff is available.

if you are interested in receiving more information please Kate Martin at Common Room