Compassion ‘Can Save’ Self-Harming Youngsters

A new report says self-harming youth should be treated more sensitively and highlights the need to assess a teen’s “digital life”.

Treating young people who self-harm with more compassion, dignity and respect could help to save lives, according to a leading group of psychiatrists.

In its new report, Managing Self-Harm In Young People, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has called for teenagers to be treated more sensitively, whether by professionals or their families.

The document is an updated version of the College’s 1998 report on self-harm, and is backed by YoungMinds, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and the Royal College of Nursing.

It makes 14 recommendations, including a new section focusing on how important digital technology now is to all teenagers, saying it is critical that a young person’s “digital life” and use of social media should be assessed as part of any clinical tests.

Dr Andrew Hill-Smith, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist and a member of the Faculty of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “Suicide remains the second most common cause of death among young people.

Nikki Mattocks

Campaigner Nikki Mattocks needed psychiatric help after self-harming.

“Self-harm is an important signal of distress so it needs sensitive responses with careful handling.

“Our actions can make a difference for young people and turn lives around. Our actions can save lives.”

Nikki Mattocks, a campaigner for the group YoungMinds, suffered a traumatic experience when she was 14 that meant she frequently self-harmed and has needed psychiatric care.

She told Sky News: “When I was trying to get help and being turned away from the places that are meant to help you that is really horrible, it takes a lot of courage to reach out and get help.

“A lot of healthcare professionals see it as a way of attention seeking rather than a genuine sign of distress.

“I think that needs to change because symptoms of mental illness should be treated with the same dignity and respect as symptoms of physical illness, so I think it’s really good that this report has highlighted that there is an issue.”

The report highlights that the UK has one of the highest rates of self-harm in Europe.

While a survey of young people aged 15-16 years estimated that more than 10% of girls and more than 3% of boys had self-harmed in the previous year.

John Carr, government adviser on online child safety, welcomed the report and the inclusion of advice on assessing internet use.

He said: “Young people’s lives in the year 2014 to a large degree are lived out and through the online media, through social networking sites and so on.

“So it’s very important that health professionals understand that.”

:: If you are affected by the issues in this story you can seek support from Childline (if you are under 18) on 0800 1111 or the Samaritans on  08457 90 90 90. Information and support is also available at


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