‘Mind and Body’ – Early intervention for young people at risk of self-harm

Picture of a young, white teenager leaning on a brick wall looking at the camera. In the background are two teenage girls

Rick Bradley is Operations Manager of Mind and Body, one of our Young Person’s Services. This blog post was originally published on Dr Pooky Knightsmith's website

I’m in the fortunate position of overseeing the delivery of ‘Mind and Body’, an early intervention programme commissioned to support young people involved in, or vulnerable to self harming behaviours. ‘Mind and Body’ – which is currently being delivered by Addaction in Kent, Cornwall and Lancashire – combines small therapeutic group sessions with one-to-one meetings, allowing participants to explore the topic of mental health (and more specifically self harming behaviours).

Find out more about Mind and Body here.

Young people are selected for participation through an online survey designed to identify those most likely to benefit from the programme, following a talk from our practitioners to their year group in school. Respondents are asked a total of 27 questions about perceptions of self harm, their own wellbeing and broader aspects of their lives. Neither school staff nor parents will find out what the young people have answered in the survey.

We are only a few months into the programme but already we have data from more than 1500 young people. The results are somewhat of a worry.

More than one third of those who have taken part in this survey disclosed that they have recently thought about harming themselves. Of these, 64% identified themselves as feeling depressed for six or more days in the past month.

Whilst the difficulties of transition from childhood to adolescence and beyond are well documented, these figures have still been a source of surprise and concern. 

Mind and Body infographic on the prevalence of self-harm among young people

Nearly nine in ten participants stated that they thought that “some, many or most” young people their age were involved in self harm. This figure was even higher amongst grammar school pupils where 94% of respondents stated that they felt self harm was prevalent.

Selective schools were also identified as being linked to higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression that non selective schools.

Whilst the data may be cause for alarm, we are in the fortunate position of having funding to support many of those who are sending these distress signals. But what about elsewhere? What can be done to help the many thousands of others who cannot access support navigate the turbulence of their adolescent years? Perhaps, some things to bear in mind:

  1. A lot is already being done. There is increasing openness on social media about mental health, with public figures speaking out about their own struggles as part of the Heads Together campaign. Young people we work with have often heard of Time To Change and have seen some of the excellent films and resources they have produced. As the Government promises more funding for CYP mental health services it is imperative that this wider momentum is not lost.
  2. Schools must ensure pastoral support is prioritised not marginalised. It is rare to find a school that has not had cutbacks in its pastoral care over the past few years. Even where Mind and Body is being delivered we witness staff battling against the constant push for academic excellence. They have to fight to find time in students’ timetables for our sessions. The early findings indicate there is a link between increased academic pressures and higher levels of student anxiety and depression. As such, we must make sure that emotional wellbeing is taken seriously and ensure time is set aside for this.
  3. Services must communicate effectively with each other. Our experience with local CAMHS teams has been very positive. These are services that are incredibly stretched in terms of their resources and anything that can support their work can surely only be a good thing. What has helped this relationship to build is clear information about remits alongside regular and appropriate information sharing. This has led to clearer care pathways and better provision for the young people that need to access some form of support.
  4. The voice of the YP needs to be heard. It is important that teachers and pastoral leads promote open discussion of mental health topics. It is even more important than young people do this too. As part of ‘Mind and Body’, young people produce pieces of artwork, film, photography or creative writing, documenting their thoughts and experiences about self harm and mental health. These are going to be displayed in local galleries, and there are plans to compile these into a book – something that will hopefully inspire other young people who struggle to communicate their own thoughts and feelings. There are so many different ways in which this can be done, but in essence we need to make sure that individuals know it is okay not to be okay. This is the responsibility of all of us who work with young people; hopefully it is a role that many of them will feel empowered to take on too.

Rick Bradley is the Operations Manager for Addaction’s ‘Mind and Body’ programme. Follow him on Twitter at @RickBrad1ey and receive updates about the programme via @_MindandBody

Self-harm and other mental health issues which affect children and young people will be covered in online learning sessions, run by Pooky Knighstmith and funded by the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust. Find out more here, and past sessions’ recordings and slideshows can be found here.