Article Text

Download PDFPDF

The impact of self-harm by young people on parents and families: a qualitative study
  1. Anne E Ferrey1,
  2. Nicholas D Hughes2,
  3. Sue Simkin1,
  4. Louise Locock3,
  5. Anne Stewart4,
  6. Navneet Kapur5,
  7. David Gunnell6,
  8. Keith Hawton1
  1. 1University Department of Psychiatry, Centre for Suicide Research, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  2. 2School of Healthcare, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK
  3. 3Health Experiences Research Group, Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford and NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre, Oxford, UK
  4. 4Central Oxon CAMHS, Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, Oxford, UK
  5. 5Centre for Suicide Prevention, University of Manchester and Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust, Manchester, UK
  6. 6School of Social and Community Medicine, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Keith Hawton; keith.hawton{at}


Objectives Little research has explored the full extent of the impact of self-harm on the family. This study aimed to explore the emotional, physical and practical effects of a young person's self-harm on parents and family.

Design and participants We used qualitative methods to explore the emotional, physical and practical effects of a young person's self-harm on their parents and family. We conducted a thematic analysis of thirty-seven semistructured narrative interviews with parents of young people who had self-harmed.

Results After the discovery of self-harm, parents described initial feelings of shock, anger and disbelief. Later reactions included stress, anxiety, feelings of guilt and in some cases the onset or worsening of clinical depression. Social isolation was reported, as parents withdrew from social contact due to the perceived stigma associated with self-harm. Parents also described significant impacts on siblings, ranging from upset and stress to feelings of responsibility and worries about stigma at school. Siblings had mixed responses, but were often supportive. Practically speaking, parents found the necessity of being available to their child often conflicted with the demands of full-time work. This, along with costs of, for example, travel and private care, affected family finances. However, parents generally viewed the future as positive and hoped that with help, their child would develop better coping mechanisms.

Conclusions Self-harm by young people has major impacts on parents and other family members. Clinicians and staff who work with young people who self-harm should be sensitive to these issues and offer appropriate support and guidance for families.


This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt and build upon this work, for commercial use, provided the original work is properly cited. See:

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.