What can parents and carers do?

Researchers from IHMRI and the University of Wollongong’s School of Psychology are investigating self-harm from the perspective of parents and carers. They’re seeking 50 participants for an online survey.

Self-harm is a leading public health issue which has been increasing significantly over the last ten years. Self-harm often begins in early adolescence.

Dr Michelle Townsend says the goal of this research is to develop an understanding of self-harm in children within the family context and to increase information and support for parents.

“The needs of families of children and young people who self-harm has received little attention. A recent comprehensive review undertaken by the Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists found that one of the key elements in reducing self-harm in young people is familial support but parents are often unsure why their child is engaging in these behaviours and how to appropriately respond,” said Dr Townsend.

Self-harm is defined as the deliberate, direct harming of oneself with or without suicidal intent. The behaviour may include self-cutting, burning, biting, self-poisoning, hair pulling and self-battery.

“The complexity of this behaviour means that self-harm has a significant emotional, psychological, social and economic impact on the individual, their parents and their siblings,” said Dr Townsend.

 “We are still trying to understand the motivation for self-harm, often it is used to try and control difficult and overwhelming feelings or to gain some kind of relief from emotional pain.”

“There is very little research has been undertaken with parents, we are interested in understanding more about their experiences, their needs and what they perceive as their children’s needs.”

“Parents are not necessarily the first to be aware their child is self-harming, sometimes the school or another children’s parent may make them aware, other times their child may tell them but it really varies,” added Dr Townsend

Self-harm is more common in young women. In Australia about 5.7% of young men aged 12-15 have engaged in self-harm compared with 11.1% of females in the same age group.

“We aim to develop a resource that supports parents when they first experience this issue. We will develop some resources that schools can provide to parents when they first inform them they believe their child is engaging in self-harm.”


The information collected in this study will be used to develop a resource that will benefit other parents and families.

Media contact

Louise Negline, Communications Coordinator

t: 4221 4702 m: 0417 044 867 e: louisenegline@ihmri.org.au

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