Blog: Self-injury and mindfulness

Published: 1 Mar 2019

Author: Clare Canning
Blog: Self-injury and mindfulness

Today is self-injury awareness day, and I find myself reflecting on the fact that almost one in four teenage girls in the UK are known to hurt themselves as a way of coping with overwhelming distress (1). This is a significant public health concern, with rates of non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) in the UK now higher than any other country in Europe (2). Yet appropriate services to support the huge numbers of people who self-injure, as well as their family and friends who are affected by the issue, simply do not exist.

When I was younger, I used NSSI as a way of coping with feelings I found unmanageable. At the time, I found it devastating that there was so little understanding and compassion for my situation, and that specialist support was so lacking. This lived experience has made me passionate about improving the lives of those who self-injure, and working for ten years in first-line NHS psychiatric hospitals has only deepened my commitment.

Learning mindfulness techniques helped me to reconnect with my body as a part of myself and in so doing was key to my recovery, and the recovery of others I have worked alongside. There are swathes of young people who self-injure, yet still do not meet the high criteria to access mental health services on the NHS, and I believe that they could benefit from these techniques too.

I am working with a clinical psychologist and other health professionals to develop the world’s first mindfulness-based intervention for self-injury. This intervention for young people will bring them together to learn skills to develop resilience. We are also developing a course for the parents and carers of these young people, which would run alongside the primary group.

Last year, I travelled to Canada and the USA on a Churchill Fellowship to meet with world-leading researchers, clinicians and practitioners who share my passion for supporting people who self-injure. One highlight of my trip was visiting the research lab of Dr Nancy Heath, a world-leading researcher at McGill University, Montreal. Nancy’s work on this issue has spanned decades, and her entire team’s approach to their work is one built on respect for those who self-injure.

My travels enabled me to establish new networks with Nancy’s team and others. We will collaborate on research that will help to ensure that the interventions I am developing are based on the best available global research.

My Fellowship has strengthened my resolve to find funding for my work. Meeting others in the world who are working tirelessly to achieve change has made me more committed than ever to bringing new support to the thousands of young people in the UK who need support to overcome this misunderstood and stigmatised behaviour.

(1) https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/sites/default/files/good_childhood_summary_2018.pdf

(2) https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/s/self-harm

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