Self-harm intervention vital part of suicide prevention

08 Sep 2017 10:18:19.147

Self-harm intervention is a vital part of suicide prevention for young people in care according to recent research from experts at the University of Nottingham.

In the UK and ROI, more than 6,000 people die by suicide a year - an average of 18 a day. The research is being highlighted as part of World Suicide Prevention Day on 10th September and has been led by Professor Ellen Townsend from the school of Psychology at the University of Nottingham.

The research published in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology is the first detailed study of factors leading to self-harm over time in young people in care in England, using the Card Sort Task for Self-Harm (CaTS) to describe sequences of factors leading to the young person’s first and most recent episodes of self-harm. This process provides young people with tools to map out thoughts, feelings and behaviours on a timeline leading up to, and immediately after a self-harm event. These can then be used to open up conversations and help formulate possible ways to help. 

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 Analysis of the results from the Card Sort Task showed that young people in care felt better immediately after their first episode of self-harm with feelings of depression and sadness, and having the access to the means to self-harm, cited as key factors leading to self-harm. It also showed that sequences of factors leading to self-harm can change and evolve over time. Crucially, feeling better after self-harm disappeared over time and feelings of self-hatred and not being afraid of death emerged.

Regular monitoring

The conclusion was that regular monitoring and assessment of each self-harm episode are needed alongside support around easing and dealing with emotional distress.

Professor Townsend explains how the research emphasises the need for self-harm intervention: “Self-harm is the strongest predictor of eventual suicide and each suicide significantly affects many other individuals. Looked-after young people are at particularly high risk of self-harmful behaviour yet there is sparse research targeting this group.

“We know that talking about self-harm and suicide is extremely difficult, especially for those in care, which is where the CaTS system is very beneficial and would have clinical utility as an assessment tool as it provides a structured way to communicate and order thoughts and feelings in relation to self-harm. Providing effective support like this could make the vital difference for future positive outcomes and reduce incidences of self-harm and ultimately help prevent future suicide.”

Dr Ruth Wadman who conducted the work in the field said: “Young people told us that they enjoyed doing the CaTS.  It gave them a way to understand their own self-harm and communicate about it effectively.”


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Notes to editors: 

The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage, consistently ranked among the world's top 100. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our 44,000 students - Nottingham was named University of the Year for Graduate Employment in the 2017 Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide, was awarded gold in the TEF 2017 and features in the top 20 of all three major UK rankings. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. We are ranked eighth for research power in the UK according to REF 2014. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally.

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest-ever fundraising campaign, is delivering the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news…


Story credits

 More information is available from Professor Ellen Townsend, in the School of Psychology at the University of Nottingham on +44 (0) 115 8467305



Jane Icke - Media Relations Manager (Faculty of Science)

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5751 Location: University Park


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