In this animation we’re going to talk about self-harm directly, but safely, and outline the practical things that school staff can do, within their role, to prevent and respond to it.

Self-harm can be a challenging topic so please remember to reach out to online and national phone support if you need.

In the course of your day to day role, you may notice changes in a student’s behaviour that raise your concern. The student may become withdrawn, have dramatic changes in mood, or start wearing clothes inappropriate to the conditions.

You might glimpse physical signs that leave you feeling concerned for their safety.

If you discover that a student is self-harming, it’s natural to find it confronting. Because it’s a confusing thing. Why would a young person deliberately harm themselves?

Well it really depends on the person and their circumstances, but most often, for young people, self-harm is a way of coping with overwhelming emotions.

When highly distressed, physical pain can create a single point of focus that momentarily blocks out everything else. But the effect is short-lived, and in the long run there are better ways of  coping than self-harm.

So what should you do if you discover a student is self-harming?

Assuming it’s not a medical emergency, then the best step is for you or another staff member to have a private conversation with the student.

As difficult as this conversation can be, asking about self-harm won’t automatically spark this behaviour in a student who hasn’t thought about it.  In fact, it can send a strong message that you care and are interested in their wellbeing.  

When you do this with sensitivity, reserving your judgement, then the student may open up about what is going on for them.  

From there, you can help the student access professional support and get a proper risk assessment.

As most young people who self-harm don’t seek professional help on their own, it’s important that they are supported to spend time with an expert, learning how to cope with distress and stay safe.

So what’s your school’s approach to reducing self-harm? What processes and procedures does your school follow, and who can you go to if you have questions?