A sixth-form college is training its first-aiders to recognise and respond appropriately to the signs that a student is self-harming.
Counsellor Jane Darougar launched the project at Leyton Sixth Form College in East London.
First-aiders are often the first people to notice that a student has injuries which may be self-inflicted.
Her initiative aims to help young people who may find it hard to talk about their self-harming or seek help of their own accord.
It’s hoped the first-aiders will be able to respond appropriately and, where possible, steer young people who need professional help towards the college’s counselling service.
Jane, an executive member of BACP's Universities and Colleges Division, said:
“Young people who self-harm are doing it because they’re full of distress, often they cannot find the words to voice what they are going through so communicate it in a very physical way.”
“Seeking out a professional can feel overwhelming, but sometimes letting someone else see their pain in a non-verbal way is more accessible. First-aiders may see the signs of this self-harm - the injuries. They may realise that the young man with grazed knuckles didn’t accidentally scrape against a wall but punched it, they may realise that a slash wound is self-harm or that a series of call outs are building a picture of a pattern of behaviour.”
“This is opening up a channel, not directly into counselling. But I really hope for some it might help them take the first step towards to counselling and that they look at talking to someone rather than acting this way.”
The training has been designed to give the college’s first-aiders, who include teachers and support staff, a better understanding of why young people self-harm and how they can react appropriately if they recognise that a student has been hurting themselves.
Jane said that sometimes first-aiders are anxious about how to react and unsure what to do if they believe a young person is self-harming.
“They might be worried, fearful or upset themselves. This is about members of staff managing their own feelings as well as helping the young people with theirs.”
Jane held the first training session for 12 first-aiders in the autumn term. She plans to run more sessions in the future.
“It’s very early days but the feedback has been very good,” she said.
“This has helped people think about asking questions about young people’s injuries in a non-judgemental, empathetic way.
“The staff told me they felt they have a much better understanding of self-harm, that it’s not such a mystery and they were much more equipped than before.”
“Young people can feel ashamed that they self-harm, they don’t want to admit it or ask for help.
“I hope this will bridge the gap and that if first-aiders can talk to them at the start it might break down the barriers to seeking counselling.”
If you want to seek advice or help about mental health issues you can find a BACP counsellor or psychotherapist via the BACP’s Therapist Directory.