When I hear people joke about cutting and self harm, I often shake my head with amazement at how little they seem to understand that behavior. I’ve always kind of assumed that if someone went to a hospital seeking help for their own self harm, they’d find people who were better informed and better equipped to help them. Well, according to the results of a recent survey of National Health Service professionals in the UK, that’s not the case:
Less than half of NHS professionals believe they or their team have had sufficient training to undertake assessments of people who self-harm, according to research by the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The College asked more than 1,500 of its members whether they felt they had adequate training and less than half of respondents felt their training was insufficient to carry out assessments… 26% of staff felt that they did not know about self-harm to communicate effectively (59% of staff in the emergency department).
As one of the members of the working group involved in the survey and report points out, this is a serious problem: “When a person turns up to hospital having harmed themselves, this may well be the first time they have had contact with the health service. Failure to deal effectively with a person at this stage can have major repercussions. It may discourage them from returning in a later crisis and stop them getting the care they need.” It’s also a problem because the general stigma against people who self harm goes unchecked: “large numbers of healthcare staff have a profoundly negative reaction to patients who harm themselves, compared with those with physical illness, and … this is likely to be reflected in the quality of clinical care.”
Not only is this problem serious, it’s also pervasive, as the report estimates that 4 in 1,000 people in the UK self harm, resulting in 170,000 people presenting themselves at hospitals for help with self harm every year. And of course, members of some groups are more vulnerable than others, including asylum seekers, minority ethnic groups, prisoners, QUILTBAG people, and veterans. Young people are also more likely to engage in self harm. And these people are not getting the help they need, the help they deserve.
(You can download the full report here.)