“‘It is a safe space’: self-harm self-help groups”

Published date12 March 2018
Date12 March 2018
AuthorMelanie Boyce,Carol Munn-Giddings,Jenny Secker
Subject MatterHealth & social care,Mental health
“‘It is a safe space: self-harm
self-help groups
Melanie Boyce, Carol Munn-Giddings and Jenny Secker
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to present a qualitative analysis of the role of self-harm self-help
groups from the perspective of group members.
Design/methodology/approach A qualitative case study approach guided the research, which involved
working with two self-harm self-help groups and all regularly attending members.
Findings A thematic approach to the analysis of the findings indicates that self-harm self-help groups can
provide a safe, non-judgemental space where those who self-harm can meet, listen and talk to others who
share similar experiences for reciprocal peer support. Offering a different approach to that experienced in
statutory services, the groups reduced membersisolation and offered opportunities for learning and findings
ways to lessen and better manage their self-harm.
Research limitations/implications This was a small-scale qualitative study, hence it is not possible to
generalise the findings to all self-harm self-help groups.
Practical implications The value of peers supporting one another, as a means of aiding recovery
and improving well-being, has gained credence in recent years, but remains limited for those who
self-harm. The finding s from this research highl ight the value of self-hel p groups in providing
opportunities for peer support and the facilitative role practitioners can play in the development of
self-harm self-help groups.
Originality/value Self-harm self-help groups remain an underexplored area, despite such groups being
identified as a valuable source of support by its members. This research provides empirical evidence, at an
individual and group level, into the unique role of self-harm self-help groups.
Keywords Qualitative research, Self-harm, Peer support, Mental health, Self-help group
Paper type Research paper
Increasingly the value of peers supporting one another, as a means of aiding recovery and
improving psychological well-being, has gained credence and acceptance in the area of mental
health (Loat, 2011). Sometimes referred to as mutual support or self-help, peer support is
characterised by individuals who share similar experiences coming together to give and receive
support.The nature of this mutual supportmay be social, emotional orpractical, but intrinsicallyit is
reciprocal, allowing peers to benefit from the support whether they are giving or receiving it
(Lawton-Smith,2013). Bradstreet (2006) suggeststhat there are three main types of peer support:
the informal, unintentional and naturally occurring; participation in peer-run groups/programmes;
and the formal/intentional peer support. And, it is in this lattercategory where the development of
peer support in mental health services is largely located (Faulkner and Basset, 2012).
Despite this current interest in peer support, albeit of a formal nature in mental health services,
development remains limited in certain areas. A scoping exercise, undertaken by Faulkner et al.
(2013) to map the range of mental health peer support groups and projects across England,
found it to be mainly lacking in minority and marginalised groups and communities. Whilst the
minority and marginalised groups and communities are not explicitly defined in this report,
self-harm is an area that remains heavily stigmatised and surrounded by misconceptions and
assumptions. Indeed the term itself continues to be interpreted and applied in multiple,
often-conflicting ways, due to a lack of agreement around what it involves.
Received 16 June 2017
Revised 12 October 2017
Accepted 29 November 2017
Melanie Boyce is a Senior
Research Fellow at the Faculty
of Health, Social Care and
Education, Anglia Ruskin
University, Chelmsford, UK.
Carol Munn-Giddings is
based at the Faculty of Health,
Social Care and Education,
Anglia Ruskin University,
Chelmsford, UK.
Jenny Secker is an Emeritus
Professor of Mental Health at
the Faculty of Health,
Social Care and Education,
Anglia Ruskin University,
Chelmsford, UK.
PAG E 54
VOL. 23 NO. 1 2018, pp. 54-63, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 1361-9322 DOI 10.1108/MHRJ-06-2017-0021

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