Study Helps Young People Overcome Self-Harm

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Each year, hundreds of young people deliberately hurt themselves. Now a national study will examine the best techniques for preventing young people from self-harming again.

The 4.5m pound study, led by the University of Leeds and NHS Leeds, will establish whether a regime of family therapy is an effective interventional technique for these young people.

Funded by the National Institute for Health Research Health Technology Assessment (NIHR HTA) programme, the project involves 15 NHS organisations and three universities and will work with more than 800 young people and their families.

Professor David Cottrell, Dean of Medicine at the University of Leeds, is leading the trial in collaboration with the Clinical Trials Research Unit (CTRU). He says, “Currently services use a range of different treatment approaches but we don’t have enough evidence to know which is the most effective.

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“We know there is a link between self-harm and difficulties in family relationships and communication. However, there just isn’t enough evidence of the effectiveness of the therapies used to help these young people, though smaller studies have indicated that family therapy could be an effective technique in reducing further episodes of self-harm in adolescents.

“We are delighted that the NIHR HTA programme has agreed to fund what is one of the largest studies of child and adolescent mental health ever to be conducted in the UK. Through this study we’ll be looking at whether the “whole family” approach, which focuses on the relationships, roles and communication patterns between family members, will enable families to work with young people to help them manage crises and emotional situations more effectively.

“It’s concerned with what goes on between people, as much as what goes on in someone’s head.”

The Leeds-run trial will be the largest and most comprehensive of its kind and will give agencies involved in the care of young people a definitive, evidence-based insight into the effectiveness of this intervention in reducing further episodes of self-harm. Participants in the seven year trial will be 11 - 17 year olds who have self-harmed more than once and have required hospital admission for their injuries – though those diagnosed with severe depression or other serious mental illness will not be asked to take part.

It is hoped that the results of the trial, which begins in early 2009, will inform the development of consistent, safe and effective services for young people who self-harm across the UK.

“It’s about helping young people to deal with their distress – and giving them the mechanisms for coping in a better way than self-harm.”

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