Helping youth who self-harm

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Schwartz, C., Barican, J., Yung, D., Gray-Grant, D., & Waddell, C. (2019). Helping youth who self-harm. Children’s Mental Health Research Quarterly, 13(3), 1–16. Vancouver, BC: Children’s Health Policy Centre, Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University.

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Background: Approximately one in five young people will engage in self-harm at some point during adolescence.  Many of these youth would benefit from treatment to learn better ways of coping.

Methods: We used systematic review methods to identify randomized control trials (RCTs) evaluating interventions for youth who self-harm. Applying our inclusion criteria to the 49 studies identified from our searches, we accepted seven RCTs evaluating five interventions.

Results: All psychosocial interventions were delivered to youth engaging in self-harm.  Among them, four RCTs evaluated treatments that aimed to comprehensively address self-harm and were delivered as stand-alone interventions. The other three RCTs assessed treatments aimed to address self-harm by supplementing standard clinical care.  Of the stand-alone treatments, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) and Mentalization-Based Treatment both proved effective. DBT stood out for significantly reducing self-harm, suicide attempts and suicidal ideation according to two RCTs, conducted in Norway and the United States.  One supplementary treatment, Resourceful Adolescent Parent Program, also succeeded. This program, provided to parents, was effective in reducing youth self-harm and suicide attempts.

Conclusions: By the time a young person or their family seeks help for self-harm, feelings of distress may be daunting. Consequently, it is essential that effective treatments are provided immediately. 

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