Helping adolescents who self-mutilate: parental descriptions

J Clin Nurs. 2009 Jun;18(12):1711-21. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2702.2008.02672.x.


Aim: The purpose of this qualitative descriptive study was to explore parental views on how to help adolescents who self-mutilate.

Background: Self-harm, including self-mutilation, is common among adolescents. However, parental conceptions of helping adolescents who self-mutilate have rarely been investigated in nursing science.

Design: Qualitative descriptive design.

Method: Four parents of self-mutilating adolescents were interviewed in depth. Qualitative content analysis was applied.

Results: Three main categories emerged: a description of an adolescent who self-mutilates and descriptions of ways to help self-mutilating adolescents and ways to help their parents and family. An adolescent who self-mutilates appears externally to feel very well, but inside feels lonely and inferior to others. Help may include an adolescent helping herself by performing some activities alone or in relation to other people and an adolescent receiving help from a safe and trusting human relationship. Such a relationship can be with anyone who knows about the self-mutilation and is of utmost importance, but a caring attitude is particularly expected from adults. Factors that facilitate helping were identified as well as those considered help-hindering or helpful. Help that had been provided to parents and the family included factors considered helpful and unhelpful.

Conclusion: Adolescents who self-mutilate try to help themselves, but are in need of external, probably professional help. Parents are in need of information about self-mutilation as a phenomenon to be able to help their children. Help for self-mutilating adolescents as perceived by their parents also includes help for the whole family.

Relevance to clinical practice: The findings of this study could assist health care professionals in approaching and helping both self-mutilating adolescents and their parents.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Parents*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Risk Factors
  • Risk-Taking
  • Self Mutilation*