Background: Deliberate self harm (DSH) is a major public health concern and has increased among young people in Ireland. While DSH is undoubtedly the result of interacting factors, studies have identified an association between DSH and family dysfunction as well as the protective role of positive family relationships. Following a focus group meeting held to identify the needs of parents and carers of young people with DSH, a support programme (SPACE) was developed. The aims of the current study are to evaluate the effectiveness of the SPACE programme in decreasing parental psychological distress, reducing parental report of young peoples' difficulties, increasing parental satisfaction and increasing parents' ratings of their own defined challenges and goals.
Methods: Participants were recruited from a Mental Health Service within a paediatric hospital, Community Child and Adolescent Mental Health Teams and family support services. All services were located within the greater Dublin area in Ireland. Forty-six parents of children who had engaged in or expressed thoughts of self harm attended the programme and participated in the evaluation study. The programme ran once a week over an 8-week period and included topics such as information on self harm in young people, parenting adolescents, communication and parental self-care. Seventy percent (N = 32) of the original sample at Time 1 completed measures at Time 2 (directly following the programme) and 37% (N = 17) of the original sample at Time 1 completed them at Time 3 (6 months following the programme). A repeated measures design was used to identify changes in parental wellbeing after attendance at the programme as well as changes in parental reports of their children's difficulties.
Results: Participants had lower levels of psychological distress, increased parental satisfaction, lower ratings of their own defined challenges and higher ratings of their goals directly after the programme. These changes were maintained at 6-month follow up in the 37% of participants who could be followed up. Furthermore the young people who had engaged in or expressed thoughts of self harm had lower levels of difficulties, as reported by their parents, following the programme.
Conclusion: These findings suggest that the SPACE programme is a promising development in supporting the parents of young people with suicidal behaviour. The programme may also reduce parental reports of their children's difficulties. Further evaluation using a randomized controlled trial is indicated.