Risk Factors for Self-Harm: Narratives from a Sample of Young People in Northern Ireland

Campbell Killick, Johanna O'Shea, Pollock Elaine

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Self-harm continues to be a growing concern within adolescence
and is a globally recognised public health and social problem.
Adolescents living in the community who self-harm are extremely
common however less is known about these young people. This
study focused on capturing the voice of young people who
engage in cutting behaviour to provide insight into the risks
associated with this phenomenon. Single semi-structured
interviews were conducted with 9 adolescents aged 16–18 years
who lived within one Trust area in Northern Ireland. Thematic
analysis was applied to the transcribed interviews in which
themes emerged. The three subordinate themes of onset,
persistence and ending of the behaviour encompassed six subthemes
which were further identified as risk factors for the
behaviour. Risk factors identified were: ACE’s, poor relationships
and difficulties in support networks, exposure to self-harm,
psychological issues, “addiction” to self-harm, concealment of
harming behaviour—to control and professional and peer support
that helps or hinders. These factors support the current literature
base however individual and diverse explanations are highlighted
which provide further depth, particularly around the concept of
addiction and support that hinders young people. Despite the
small nature of the study, recommendations for social work
practice, clinical practice and other relevant professional practice
as well as future research are considered in view of the findings.
Key direction outlines the importance of building trusting
relationships, continuity of care and continuing to listen to young
people as vital to the helping relationship.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1
Number of pages16
JournalChild Care in Practice
Early online date25 Jul 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Jul 2019


  • Self-Harm
  • adolescence
  • Risk factors
  • Young People
  • voice of child

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