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Self-harming: a taboo subject brought into the open

Published: 15 April 2002

A University of Southampton researcher is embarking on a study into people who deliberately self-harm, with the aim of understanding the problem more fully.

The project, which represents a unique collaboration between the department of Psychology at the University and the NHS Intensive Psychological Treatment Service in Poole, Dorset, has received £50,000 in funding from the Economic and Social Research Council and Dorset Healthcare Trust. Tess Bryant, a PhD student, is now recruiting 30 people for the first study.

Tess said: "Self-harming activities can include cutting, biting and burning. It is a surprisingly widespread phenomenon, and this research will aim to deepen scientific understanding of the problem."

A recent survey showed a marked increase in rates of self-harm in the UK with an estimated 140,000 hospital referrals, while researchers in the US have estimated that as many as one per cent of the population have engaged in deliberate self-harm.

Tess will be applying theories of addiction to help explain the functions of self-harm. She said: "People who harm themselves often describe its addictive nature; many of the precursors associated with addictive behaviour are very similar to those associated with self-harm. Like other addictions, it has dramatic, socially mediated and detrimental effects, and it is also associated with other addictive behaviours."

Tess added: "It is important to remove any stigma attached to self-harming. By taking part in the study people will have the chance to talk about their experiences, confidentially, and I will be able to provide them with information about support services. I hope the research will broaden understanding of this area."

If you would like to help Tess with her research in this area, she can be contacted at the University of Southampton on (023) 8059 4595 or T.L.BRYANT@soton.ac.uk.

Notes for editors

The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship. The University, which celebrates its Golden Jubilee in 2002, has 20,000 students and over 4,500 staff and plays an important role in the City of Southampton. Its annual turnover is in the region of £215 million.

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