Attitudes and knowledge of clinical staff regarding people who self-harm: a systematic review

J Affect Disord. 2012 Aug;139(3):205-16. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2011.08.024. Epub 2011 Sep 16.


Background: The attitudes held by clinical staff towards people who harm themselves, together with their knowledge about self-harm, are likely to influence their clinical practice and hence the experiences and outcomes of patients. Our aim was to systematically review the nature of staff attitudes towards people who engage in self-harm, including the factors that influence them, and the impact of training on attitudes, knowledge and behaviour of staff.

Methods and findings: A comprehensive search for relevant studies was performed on six electronic databases. Two independent reviewers screened titles, abstracts and full reports of studies, extracted data and gave each paper a quality rating. Qualitative and quantitative studies published in English were included. A total of 74 studies were included. Attitudes of general hospital staff, especially doctors, were largely negative, particularly towards individuals who repeatedly self-harm. Self-harm patients were viewed more negatively than other patients, except those abusing alcohol or drugs. Psychiatric staff in community and hospital settings displayed more positive attitudes than general hospital staff. Negative attitudes were more common among doctors than nursing staff although this was only true of general hospital staff. Active training led to consistent improvements in attitude and knowledge in all groups.

Conclusions: Attitudes of general hospital staff towards self-harm patients are often negative, mirroring the experience of service users. Interventions can have a positive impact and improve the quality of patient care.

Limitations: Included only English language publications.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Clinical Competence
  • Humans
  • Professional-Patient Relations
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / psychology*
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / therapy*