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Stigma towards non-suicidal self-harm: evaluating a brief educational intervention

14 March 2019
Volume 28 · Issue 5



health professionals' attitudes towards self-harming behaviour are predominantly negative. Research examining educational interventions to change negative attitudes is limited.


this study aimed to provide an educational intervention for student nurses to change negative attitudes around self-harm.


attitudes around self-harm and mental health in general were assessed through the Self-Harm Antipathy Scale and the Mental Health Attitude Scale. Fifty-five adult nursing students took part in the 45–minute intervention. This included facts and figures, celebrity stories and personal stories regarding self-harm, all intended to increase understanding.


after the intervention, attitudes measured by the Self-Harm Antipathy Scale had improved significantly.


patients who self-harm will without doubt continue to experience negative attitudes from health professionals. This study shows an educational intervention can change attitudes towards those who self-harm.

Levels of self-harm in the UK and Ireland are increasing, particularly in adolescents (Brunner et al, 2007; Karman et al, 2015; Griffin et al, 2018; Heyward-Chaplin et al, 2018), with more than 200 000 presentations to accident and emergency (A&E) departments for self-harm annually (Hawton et al, 2007). This has become a considerable problem for people working in healthcare settings and is exacerbated by the bed crisis.

Individuals use a range of methods to harm themselves intentionally. These can include cutting-type behaviours (including scratching and poking), hitting, banging or biting type behaviours, burning, overdosing, eating-disordered behaviour, reckless behaviour or bone-breaking (Laye-Gindhu and Schonert-Reichl, 2005; Victor and Klonsky, 2014).

As with mental illness in general, stigma around self-harm has been found in the healthcare professions (Storey et al, 2005; Friedman et al, 2006; McHale and Felton, 2010; Karman et al, 2015; Mitten et al, 2016), with research suggesting that some staff believe patients who self-harm are ‘manipulative and attention-seeking’ (Friedman et al, 2006).

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