Thursday, January 08, 2009

Tackling self-harm in Sheffield

The incidence of self-harm among teenagers has been rising year-on-year and the UK now has the highest rates of this behaviour in Europe. It is estimated that one in ten adolescents in the UK will self-harm, something that leads to around 24,000 hospital admissions per year. Particular groups at risk include girls (who are seven times more at risk than boys), prisoners and young Asian women. The Oakwood Young People's Centre in Sheffield (an adolescent inpatient psychiatric unit) experienced a sevenfold increase in self-harm in the last few months of 2002 from an average of 1.2 incidents per month to an average of 8.1. Staff at the unit drew up a new policy on self-harm. They offered a range of support and alternative coping techniques including the use of ice, rubber bands and marker pens instead of sharp objects. Diaries, relaxation techniques and distraction were also used as well as a wide range of therapeutic interventions to address the patients' underlying distress and problems. Self-harm was viewed in the same light as the use of alcohol or illegal drugs; as completely unacceptable and resulting in suspension from the unit. Service users were able to return after a suspension but any repeated self-harm was seen as grounds for discharge. The new policy led to a steep decline in the incidence of self-harm to 0.2 incidents per month, below the levels before the increase in 2002.

Livesey, Anthony E. - Self-harm in adolescent in-patients Psychiatric Bulletin 2009, 33, 10-12

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