What helps? An exploration of protective factors and self-harm
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Background: Self-harm is important considering the demand it places on health services and its strong association as a risk factor for suicide. Research regarding protective factors for self-harm is limited, protective factors can be personal or social resources that reduce the impact of negative consequences, in the face of stressors. Identifying protective factors is important, provided they can be enhanced and utilised to inform intervention. Aims: This thesis had two aims; to systematically review the literature investigating the relationship between social support and suicidality, and to use Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis to explore the factors that support desistance from self-harm. Methods: Quantitative studies, exploring the relationship between social support and suicidality were reviewed systematically. The empirical study employed Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis to investigate self-harm behaviour in context, identify potential protective factors and explore what participants have found to be helpful to desist from selfharm behaviour. Semi structured interviews were conducted with nine participants (18- 61years) recruited from the Adult Community Mental Health Team. Results: Findings of the systematic review indicate that there is an association between poor social support and increased suicidality in adulthood. In the empirical study four main themes emerged from the data: Self-harm provided Relief from Psychological Distress, Difficulties Communicating, Social support and Gradual desistance. Conclusions: Social support may be an important factor that protects against suicidality; however further research is required to investigate this association. Findings from the empirical study suggest that treatment providers must be sensitive to the context and function of self-harm behaviour for the individual, and be willing to work to reduce the self-harm behaviour, while being cognisant that self-harm may be protective for the individual and prevent more severe self-harm or even suicide.