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Self-harm guidance for school staff


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What is self-harm?

Self-harm is where someone does something to deliberately hurt themselves when they find things difficult to cope with.

It can include behaviours such as:

  • Cutting
  • Over-dosing
  • Hitting (self and others)
  • Burning or scalding
  • Picking or scratching skin
  • Pulling hair
  • Ingesting toxic substances
  • Eating disorders

Why do people self-harm?

People self-harm for lots of different reasons. Sometimes this is because they feel bad about something that has happened to them but often there is no known cause. Self-harming behaviours may have the following functions:

  • To communicate distress to others
  • To relieve unbearable feelings
  • To provide soothing and comfort by releasing tension and gaining care from others
  • To feel alive if they feel numb due to life experiences
  • To punish themselves as they feel shame and self-blame
  • To control things in their life when everything feels out of control

Who self-harms?

There is not a ‘type’ of person who self-harms. People who self-harm are of any age, religion, sex or background. Both girls and boys self-harm but may use different methods.

People often think that there is a link between self-harm and suicide, however, most people who self-harm are not trying to kill themselves.

What do I do if I’m worried someone is self–harming?

Pupil shows signs and symptoms of self-harming:

  • Stay calm – try not to panic or show you feel shocked, even though you may be.
  • Ensure all physical wounds are treated before any conversations around the non-physical aspects of self-harm.
  • Do not ignore, punish or criticise the behaviour.
  • You may want the young person to stop but telling them to stop is not helpful and can be dangerous as it takes away their coping strategy
  • Listen to them non-judgmentally and try to understand
  • Explain about duty of care and confidentiality
  • Record concern and inform Designated Child Protection lead
  • Have an awareness of your own feelings and need for safe support
  • Be aware of ‘social contagion’ – self-harm spreading between members of a group

Undertake a risk assessment and create a ‘safety’ plan:

  • Designated Child Protection lead will work with available information to undertake risk assessment and safety plan – see Risk Assessment and Safety Plan for Young Person
  • Inform parents and carers unless clear reason not to.
  • Relevant course of action will depend on level of risk
  • Seek support from other agencies
  • Document concerns and actions to be taken – within whole school approach/policy/protocol

Low/ medium risk

  • Identify key adult to work with young person.
  • Support them to stay safe if they continue to self-harm. Help them to minimise risks such as infection.
  • Support them to develop new coping strategies. Other strategies include distraction, flicking a band on their wrist, putting cold ice on their skin, going for a walk.
  • The Truth About Self Harm: for young people and their families and friends by the Mental Health Foundation may be useful
  • Seek further advice from other agencies
  • Ensure there is support for yourself.

High risk/Crisis

  • Seek immediate medical attention and administer first aid if required
  • Keep calm and give reassurance to pupil and others who may have witnessed the self-harm
  • Explain duty of care and confidentiality
  • Record concern and inform Designated Child Protection lead
  • If child/ young person is taken to hospital, emergency protocols for treatment and care will be implemented
  • If child/ young person is not taken to hospital, discuss with CAMHS to mark pain if possible. Pain scales may also be helpful.
  • Consider what might be going on for the child outside of school e.g. has there been a change or loss.
  • Speak to CAMHS if you need further support unpicking the ‘intention’ of the behaviour – is this self-harm or is the young person communicating an unmet need? Call the SPA and ask to speak to CAMHS clinician – 0330 0245 321.

Who can help in Devon?

CAMHS – 0330 0245 321
Call the pre-referral phone line at Single Point of Access to speak to a CAMHS Clinician regarding your concerns and they will advise on next steps and whether a CAMHS referral is appropriate. Have in mind FIDOS: Frequency, Intensity, Duration, Onset, Severity.

School Nurse – contact your locality team

Educational Psychology Service
Speak to the Educational Psychology Service for support via consultation, staff supervision and training.

Further Support

  • Talk works Depression and Anxiety Service: a support service for people aged over 17.5 years with mental health concerns. Can provide face-to-face, group or online support.
  • Pinpoint: an online directory of local community services.
  • Kooth: a free online anonymous counselling service for children and young people.
  • NHS Inform: free and fast access to self-help resources for mental health concerns.