Exploring parents' responses to their child's deliberate self‐harm

H. Raphael (Southampton City PCT and Hampshire Partnership Trust, Department of Psychiatry, Royal South Hants Hospital, Southampton, UK)
G. Clarke (School of Education, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK)
S. Kumar (Brighton and Sussex Medical School, University of Brighton, Brighton, UK)

Health Education

ISSN: 0965-4283

Publication date: 1 January 2006



Deliberate self‐harm (DSH) is a serious public health problem and, although in the past research has focused mainly on the DSH patient, it is now recognised that parental involvement in the therapeutic process is beneficial. This study aimed to understand parents' concerns, expectations and experiences following an episode of deliberate self‐harm in young people in order to identify their support needs.


This was a qualitative study using a phenomenological approach. Data were generated primarily from face‐to‐face, in‐depth interviews with parents of young people who had self‐harmed and with health professionals directly concerned in the management of DSH patients.


The study suggests that an incident of DSH by their son or daughter is an extremely traumatic experience for parents. Parents reported being deeply distressed with feelings of helplessness, they had concerns regarding coping with their child on discharge from hospital and were worried about the possibility of future incidents. These anxieties were exacerbated by a perceived lack of information and support from some health professionals. These results suggest that parents need more support and if given this they might be enabled to better contribute to improving the long term prognosis for their child.


The information reported here may help health professionals to engage more fully with parents as they have a key part to play in the success of the therapeutic process. The findings could be used to increase awareness and understanding amongst health professionals and so facilitate the development of mutual trust and understanding between all parties involved in the therapeutic process.



Raphael, H., Clarke, G. and Kumar, S. (2006), "Exploring parents' responses to their child's deliberate self‐harm", Health Education, Vol. 106 No. 1, pp. 9-20. https://doi.org/10.1108/09654280610637166

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