My heart and my brain is what's bleeding, These are just cuts.” An interpretative phenomenological analysis of young women's experiences of self-harm

Hilary Norman, Lisa Marzano, Andrea Oskis, Mark Coulson

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Abstract

Engagement in self-harm, defined as intentional self-poisoning or self-injury irrespective of the apparent purpose of the act, is increasing, particularly among girls and young women. Understanding the behavior from the perspective of those who self-harm is, therefore, vital in designing effective interventions and treatments. The current brief research report presents a key theme from an Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis of the experience of self-harm among eight young women, aged between 18 and 29. The theme Is Self-Harm Bad? concerns the way in which participants both acknowledged and resisted a negative conception of self-harm that was often constructed from other people's attitudes. Three subthemes explore the reasons why participants were reluctant to endorse self-harm as bad: Self-Harm is the Symptom, Self-Harm Works (Until it Doesn't) and Self-Harm is Part of Me. The findings highlight the disparity between the characterization of self-harm as a highly risky behavior and the lived experience of self-harm as a functional means of emotion regulation. From a clinical perspective, the findings explored in this brief report suggest that highlighting the risks of self-harm may not be a sufficient deterrent. The recently revised draft National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance recommends that everyone presenting to hospital following self-harm should be given a comprehensive psychosocial assessment, of which the function is, in part, to understand why the person has self-harmed. The current study underlines the importance of seeing past the behavior to the underlying causes and exploring the meaning of self-harm to the individual in order to implement effective preventative interventions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number914109
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
Volume13
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jul 2022

Keywords

  • interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA)
  • qualitative
  • self-harm
  • stigma
  • suicide

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