What clincians can learn from the parents of self-harming youth

In recent times the world has started to speak out about self-harm, which had previously been considered a taboo subject. Community studies have reported that 10% of adolescents self-harm. In these difficult times, the role of the parents is important.

Though, few previous studies have investigated the perspectives that parents have on the care given to their self-harming children.

To see through the parents’ eyes, researchers from Oxford, Bristol and Leeds interviewed various parents to hear about their experiences of the help and treatment received.

Three key themes emerged. The clinicians’ attitudes towards the young person, practical help, and the need for parents to be involved in care.

A range of attitudes were experienced by the parents and their children. While most hospital care staff were reportedly caring and non-judgemental, cases were reported where GP’s appeared to judge the child, telling them off for their actions.

Prompt access to care was of importance though was not always experienced due to referral delays. Frequent care was reported as important. Positive feedback remarked “I can hand on heart say, that team turned our lives around. They visited my daughter every day for a month”, while negative reports were due to the difficulty of arranging appointment times.

Access to information such as web resources, and guided strategies benefited parents from the start. By having structured strategies, this helped put the parents mind at ease, though some parents wished for feedback on their progress.

The need for parent support and communication was highlighted, though this was not lacking for their child.

A major theme was the need for clinicians to have a non-judgemental attitude towards the child, so they can open up and feel safe. Parents voiced their need for care to be accessed easily and early, and for them to be more involved in the care, with their viewpoints acknowledged.

They can help clinicians understand their child and provide support themselves. Many pointed out that they need to care for themselves in order to help their child, whether it be through parent support groups or by self-educating about the problem.

Many of the parents found the helping services beneficial, in helping keep the patients safe, ensuing trust in them, offering skills in managing self-harm as well as opening up space to allow them to express and find solutions to their personal problems.

This study has several take home messages for clinicians. Workers should be sensitive to the perspectives of the parents, as they often feel unprepared and unconfident in knowing how to help their self-harming child.

Though, by starting care early, and providing written strategies and information, this can increase their confidence. Care services should emphasise the importance of the parent role in helping and supporting their child.

Parents views emphasise that clinicians should be open to the perspective of parents, engaging them by involving them when possible. Practical help and support as well as information to help them understand and manage this unfamiliar challenge.

Communication appears to be key, in the connection of the clinicians with young people and also with the parents.