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Research and Policy Updates

Our monthly Research and Policy Updates give you an in-depth digest of the latest research evidence and policy information relating to key themes and sector priorities. You need to be a member of RiPfA to access full RPUs, have a website account and be logged in – if you don’t have an account you can create one here.

Latest Issue:

RPU 121 February 2017

The research summaries this month look at self-harm.

This month's RPU discusses some difficult and emotive issues. Please be aware that the content contains information from research about self-harm that some readers may find personally affecting.

Self-harm is any act of self-poisoning or self-injury. The definition of self-harm includes acts that intend to result in suicide, acts without a suicide intention, and acts where the motivation is mixed or unclear. Self-harm is a significant risk factor for future suicide but it is also a public health and social care concern in itself. While most common in people under 35, self-harm exists across all age groups; yet it often only comes to the attention of services when an act results in hospital admission. Getting accurate figures for the true prevalence of self-harm is difficult, although some research suggests 0.5 per cent of the population self-harm at least once a year.

Although it can be brought on by a period of acute and unusual stress, self-harm rarely exists as an isolated event; for example, a quarter of individuals who present to hospital as a result of self-harm will do so again within a year. Its social impacts are varied, but it can cause very significant distress to families as well as to the individual themselves. Many services may be involved with individuals who self-harm, including primary and secondary health care, social services, and mental health services. There is also significant use of hospital emergency departments.

The strongest theme to emerge across all the papers is self-harm’s complex and shifting nature. The evidence suggests that offering a non-judgmental space to talk through an individual’s unique circumstances (rather than looking out for more generic risk factors) is the most effective way to empower individuals to minimise or end self-harming behaviour. Adding to the difficulty for social care in dealing with self-harm is its relationship to suicide, and two of the papers investigate this link in detail. The importance of providing effective support and supervision to staff working with people who are self-harming is also emphasised.

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