General practitioners' training and their attitudes towards young people who self-harm: A cross-sectional survey

Early Interv Psychiatry. 2021 Apr;15(2):271-277. doi: 10.1111/eip.12936. Epub 2020 Feb 6.


Aim: Self-harm is common among adolescents and young adults and carries increased risk of suicide and other negative outcomes, yet only a small proportion will seek professional help. General practitioners (GPs) are a potentially valuable source of help as most young people visit their GP regularly for other reasons. The primary aim of this research was to explore GPs' empathy and attitudes towards young people who self-harm and how these are related to GP specialist training.

Method: GPs completed questionnaires regarding their training, levels of empathy, perceived knowledge and attitudes towards young people who self-harm. The cross-sectional design included a random sample of 178 GPs and 47 GPs-in-training in the Republic of Ireland. Bootstrapped mediation analysis using structural equation modelling (SEM) was applied to explore the pattern of relationships among GP-training, empathy, perceived knowledge of self-harm and attitudes towards youth who self-harm.

Results: The SEM results revealed that the model had a very good fit to the data. Empathy was the strongest predictor of attitudes towards self-harm even if GPs had received youth mental health training and fully mediated the effect of youth mental health training on perceived knowledge of self-harm. Specialized training in self-harm was a stronger predictor of perceived knowledge than empathy but had no association with negative attitudes.

Conclusions: The findings emphasize positive outcomes associated with GP training and highlight potential differences in the effects associated with specific vs general training in youth mental health. These differences may be used to inform the design and implementation of continuing professional development.

Keywords: adolescent; attitude; education; empathy; primary care; self-harm; self-injurious behaviour.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • General Practitioners*
  • Humans
  • Self-Injurious Behavior*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult