Making Sense of an Unknown Terrain: How Parents Understand Self-Harm in Young People

Nicholas D. Hughes, Louise Locock, Sue Simkin, Anne Stewart, Anne E Ferrey, David Gunnell, Navneet Kapur, Keith Hawton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Self-harm is common in young people, and can have profound effects on parents and other family members. We conducted narrative interviews with 41 parents and other family members of 38 young people, aged up to 25, who had self-harmed. Most of the participants were parents but included one sibling and one spouse. This article reports experiences of the parent participants. A cross-case thematic analysis showed that most participants were bewildered by self-harm. The disruption to their worldview brought about by self-harm prompted many to undergo a process of "sense-making"-by ruminative introspection, looking for information, and building a new way of seeing-to understand and come to terms with self-harm. Most participants appeared to have been successful in making sense of self-harm, though not without considerable effort and emotional struggle. Our findings provide grounds for a deeper socio-cultural understanding of the impact of self-harm on parents.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)215-225
Number of pages11
JournalQualitative health research
Issue number2
Early online date13 Sept 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017

Bibliographical note

The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This article presents independent research funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) under its Programme Grants for Applied Research scheme (RP-PG-0610-10026).


  • adolescence
  • families
  • parents
  • self-harm
  • young adults
  • qualitative narrative interviews
  • Great Britain


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