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Can we teach schools how to improve care for students who self harm? A 'campfire' discussion.

Self‐harm among young people is a major public health concern. But new research shows that even though schools are well placed to identify and intervene with students who self‐harm, some staff still lack training and confidence.

A picture of a campfire

A recent ACAMHS ‘campfire’ chat, hosted by the Mental ‘Elf’Andre Tomlin, centred on the CAMH literature review by Aureliane Pierret, Dr. Joanna Anderson, Professor Tamsin Ford, and Dr. Anne‐Marie Burn.

Aureliane Peirret, a final year medical student, said the aim of the review was to improve school staff ability to understand, recognize and respond effectively to students who are self-harming.

Alysha, a young person who joined the chat, said she’d had a mixed experience at school. “I’d often be sent home, but have to wait for my parents to come, which means you’re in no man’s land.

“However, in sixth form they had a college counsellor which was really helpful. Their number was in our phones. This made a big difference to outcomes.”

A question was raised about whether staff talking about self-harm puts ideas into young people’s heads, but Dr Joanna Anderson from the University of Cambridge said this is not the case.

“Talking about self-harm does not necessarily cause people to do it. It’s important to talk about mental health in general and include self-harm in that conversation. Build an awareness.”

The research involved education professionals, CAMHS practitioners, students, school staff and academics. However, it is clear more needs to be done to involve young people themselves.

Child and adolescent psychiatrist Professor Mina Fazel, who joined the session as an independent expert, agreed. “Getting children and young people involved in deciding interventions is vital, but schools need support to manage things better, so the children are more likely to come forward. Lots of children know what’s available but is it acceptable to them? We need to hear their answers and ask loads more questions to make things more useful and meaningful for them.”

Discussions focused on how the school environment, combined with good teachers, is vital for creating a sense of belonging and building self-esteem.

“It’s not going to be one size fits all,” said Alysha, “Young people have different backgrounds and experiences. What can schools do? Compassion is vital.”

You can watch the campfire chat here and download the research here.