Only 10% of young people who self-harm will present for hospital treatment*.

Psychmined is a UK website set up for people who work in psychology, psychiatry and mental health. It recently conducted a study of Sharp Talk, which is an online discussion group that has been set up in the UK to support young people who self harm.

Experts say that for many young people aged between 16 and 25 years old the internet is a way of reaching out and getting the help they need. Many feel they cannot talk to friends or family but feel less self conscious when talking to an online stranger. They feel more in control of the situation and can reveal as much or as little as they feel comfortable with.

For many people who self-harm the issues of being in control of their environment, their emotions and their life are central to why they hurt themselves in the first place.

According to headspace “evidence from Australian studies suggest that 6-7% of Australian youth aged 15-24 years engage in self-harm in any 12-month period. Lifetime prevalence rates are higher, with 24% of females and 18% of males aged 20-24 and 17% of females and 12% of males aged 15-19 reporting self-harming at some point in their life”.

The study of Sharp Talk used moderators of the online forum to question 47 users after they had been using the site for 10 weeks. Their results were encouraging with many participants feeling they had gained a greater understanding about mental health issues from the online discussion within the forum. However they did not feel this could replace one on one face to face therapy.

Professor Philip Hazell, spokesperson for the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatry’s faculty of child and adolescent psychiatry has also spent much time researching youth suicide, disruptive behaviour disorders of childhood and adolescence and mood disorders.

As reported in the Medical Observer, he felt “cautiously optimistic” about online forums for self-harm and added “the evidence that what we do clinically makes much difference to the self-harming is hard to demonstrate. So an endeavour like this that is potentially accessible to a much wider group of people… is worth sponsoring and evaluating further.”

*headspace

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.
Source: The Psychiatrist 2011; 35:364-68;368-70. Medical Observer. headspace