Attitudes towards young people who self-harm: age, an influencing factor




To determine the attitudes of emergency care staff towards young people (aged 12–18 years) who self-harm and to gain an understanding of the basis of attitudes that exist.


Young people frequently attend emergency services following self-harm; it is unclear whether being a young person influences attitudes held.


Mixed methods using a triangulation convergent design.


Survey of 143 staff members from four accident & emergency departments and one ambulance service. Semi-structured interviews with seven children's A&E nurses and five ambulance personnel from the same locality. Data were collected during 2010.


Pearson's product moment correlation coefficient confirmed a strong positive correlation between scores on the two scales used to measure attitudes; paired samples t-test revealed a statistically significant difference in scores across the scales; practitioners held more positive attitudes towards young people who self-harmed than young people per se. Both data sets confirmed the presence of ambivalence and ambiguity in attitudes held. The qualitative data revealed that because of their age and immaturity young people were not held responsible for their self-harming behaviours. Being young did though influence subsequent admission, with particular difficulty in securing admission for those aged 16–17 reported.


Age is a factor in shaping practitioners' attitudes; age also directs and influences a young person's journey through emergency care, although due to ambiguity there is inconsistency in determining where those aged 16–17 years of age fit.