What is the Role of Schools and Colleges in Supporting Adolescents who Self-Harm?

Assignment type: Essay
Author: Leanne Pickering
Submitted: May 2015

Self-harm is a widespread issue amongst adolescents, which is often kept hidden from adults. When a young person is identified as self-harming, education professionals often refer them to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services for an assessment. This may be due to the prevailing perception of self-harm as a mental health problem that requires clinical treatment and management. However, as the majority of self-harm behaviour is kept hidden, this essay will argue that a reactive response is unlikely to be adequate in supporting adolescents who self-harm. Instead, it will be argued that self-harm may be better perceived as an emotional and behavioural difficulty that can be effectively supported by education professionals working in schools and colleges. Rather than perceiving self-harm as a mental health problem, and the responsibility of clinicians, self-harm needs to be understood as an adaptive strategy that enables adolescents to regulate their emotions and cope with the stress of everyday life. This essay will demonstrate that adolescents who self-harm have fewer functional coping strategies and engage in self-harm as a way to alleviate negative emotions. It will be argued that education professionals are better placed to support children’s development through the implementation of whole school approaches designed to develop young people’s emotional intelligence and problem solving skills. By providing young people with culturally acceptable coping strategies, we may be able to help reduce the occurrence of self-harm behaviour.

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