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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Appropriate interventions for the prevention and management of self-harm: a qualitative exploration of service-users' views

Megan Hume and Stephen Platt*

Author Affiliations

Research Unit in Health, Behaviour and Change, School of Clinical Sciences & Community Health, University of Edinburgh, Teviot Place, Edinburgh, EH8 9AG, UK

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BMC Public Health 2007, 7:9  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-7-9

Published: 19 January 2007



The engagement of service-users in exploring appropriate interventions for self-harm has been relatively neglected in comparison with clinical studies focusing on the management and prevention of self-harm. The purpose of this study was to investigate perceptions of interventions for self-harm (formal and informal, prevention and treatment) among people who have first-hand experience as a result of their own behaviour.


Semi-structured interviews were undertaken with 14 patients admitted to hospital following a repeat act of self-harm. Data analysis was undertaken thematically, drawing broadly on some of the principles and techniques of grounded theory


The patients were a heterogeneous group with respect to their personal characteristics and the nature of their self-harm. Thirteen of the 14 patient accounts could be assigned to one or more of three overlapping experiential themes: the experience of psychiatric illness, the experience of alcohol dependency, and the experience of traumatic life events and chronic life problems. These themes were related to the nature of patients' self-harm and their experiences of, and attitudes towards, interventions for self-harm and their attitudes towards these. There was a clear preference for specialist community-based interventions, which focus on the provision of immediate aftercare and acknowledge that the management of self-harm may not necessarily involve its prevention. The findings generate the preliminary hypothesis that personal circumstances and life history are major influences on the choice of interventions for self-harm.


This study attests to the importance of recognising differences within the self-harming population, and acknowledging patients' personal circumstances and life history. These may provide clues to the antecedents of their self-harm, and lead to more acceptable and appropriate treatments.