Navigating an unfamiliar world: how parents of young people who self-harm experience support and treatment

Anne Stewart (Corresponding Author), Nicholas D Hughes, Sue Simkin, Louise Locock, Anne Ferrey, Navneet Kapur, David Gunnell, Keith Hawton

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Self-harm in young people is a common reason for contact with clinical services. However, there is little research focusing on parents’ perspectives of care following self-harm. The aim of this study was to explore parents’ experiences of treatment and support for the young person and for themselves.

A qualitative design was used to explore parents’ perspectives. Semi-structured narrative interviews were conducted across the UK with 37 parents of young people who had self-harmed. Thematic analysis was undertaken to identify themes relating to how parents experienced the help and treatment received.

Parents reported differing reactions to contact with helping services. Many found these helpful, particularly in keeping the young person safe, developing a trusting relationship with the young person, encouraging skills in managing self-harm and giving them an opportunity to talk about and find solutions to their difficulties. They spoke about the importance of practical help including prompt access to care, the right intensity of care, practical strategies and information and support. Some aspects of services were perceived as unhelpful, particularly a judgmental approach by professionals, lack of early access to treatment, inadequate support or failure to listen to the perspective of parents.

Parents’ views highlight the need for clinicians to consider carefully the perspective of parents, involving them wherever possible and providing practical help and support, including written information. The need for training of clinicians in communicating with young people and parents following self-harm is also highlighted.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)78-84
Number of pages7
JournalChild and Adolescent Mental Health
Issue number2
Early online date19 Dec 2016
Publication statusPublished - May 2018

Bibliographical note


This work was supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) under its Programme Grants for Applied Research scheme; grant number RP-PG-0610-10026. The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health. This study involved the creation of a website for, an online resource based on qualitative studies of people's experiences of health and illness (, and development of a guide for parents and carers ( The authors are grateful for the contributions of the study participants and the project Advisory Panel. A.S. contributed to the analysis and interpretation of data and drafted the article. N.H., S.S., L.L., AF, A.S., N.K., D.G. and K.H. contributed to conception and design as well as revising the article. N.H. and S.S. conducted the initial analysis and interpretation. K.H. and D.G. are National Institute for Health Research Senior Investigators. L.L. is supported by a fellowship from the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre. N.K. is supported by Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust and chaired the 2011 NICE guidelines for self-harm and the 2013 NICE Quality Standard for self-harm. A.F., N.H., S.S. and A.S. have no potential conflicts of interest in relation to this report.


  • Parents
  • self-harm
  • treatment
  • support
  • health services


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