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

Pollock Elaine, Johanna O'Shea, Campbell Killick

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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 focussed 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 sub-themes 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)139-154
Number of pages16
JournalChild Care in Practice
Issue number2
Early online date25 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 3 Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Child Care in Practice Group.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Self-harm
  • adolescence
  • behaviour
  • cutting
  • risk factors
  • social work
  • voice of child
  • young people


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