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Over the past couple of years Charities from the UK, Denmark, Italy and Slovenia have been funded by the European Union Daphne 3 programme to deliver innovative online support to young people who self-harm
The UK charities are: YouthNet, Depaul UK and 42nd Street. The European partners are: The Associazione Photofficine Onlus (Italy), Cyberhus (Denmark) and The Institute for Research and Development “Utrip” (Slovenia).
The consortium estimates that one in fifteen young people in Europe have self-harmed in his/her lives. In the UK some studies suggest that it is as high as one in ten.
The link between the internet and self-harming among young people has long been a controversial subject with much debate over whether the internet is to blame for the rise in self-harming among young people. However, the research found that the internet is profoundly influencing young people’s help-seeking behaviour and the majority of young people who self-harm go online for information, advice or emotional support.
Using its findings, the consortium has compiled a ground-breaking framework for good practice by practitioners for practitioners which strongly recommends putting online services at the heart of the solution for helping young people who self-harm.
The research provides evidence that harnessing online technology in a responsible way has the potential to break down the barriers and stigma faced by young people who self-harm.
The consortium’s collective findings come from the first hand experience of working with at least 50,000 young people who self-harm and interviewing almost 1,000 of them, throughout a two year project seeking to improve the provision of online information and support for young people who self-harm, particularly online peer support. The way young people experience self-harm and how they seek help was found to be similar in each country.
It is the first time that a piece of research of this kind has been lead by practitioners who see online and online peer support as key new areas for development and want to educate and inform other practitioners. The project has received financial support from the Daphne III Programme of the European Union.
As part of the project, a UK survey targeting young people who self-harm was carried out through YouthNet’s online support service TheSite.org. 71% of those surveyed felt it was easy to share their feelings online. 88% felt ‘less alone’ after talking online with others in their situation. 81% said they had used online sources to look for information on self-harm along with offline sources.
The collective research found that self-harm is often misunderstood by the people who could provide the young person with support, such as GPs, parents, teachers and peers. Misconceptions include seeing self-harm as attention seeking, being easy to stop, indicative of personality disorder or just a passing fashion.
These misconceptions not only affect the way the support is offered, but can also prevent young people from seeking support for fear of being stigmatised. In the UK survey, 32% of respondents said they had not looked for support in the past because they were afraid they would be misunderstood. 50% had not sought support because they felt too ashamed.
One 22 year old woman interviewed said: “I decided to go online because there you can deal with the problem as a private thing, and you can look at it from your home, not worrying about feeling ashamed, not worrying about people knowing who you are.”
A copy of the evaluation report and good practice guide can be downloaded from the YouthNet website.