Support for young people who self-harm should be more widely available across the country, according to a Centre for Mental Health evaluation of the work of The WISH Centre in two London boroughs, published today.
A space to talk, by Graham Durcan and Juliet Snell, finds that the WISH Centre demonstrates success in helping young people who are self-harming to improve their mental health and quality of life. In both Harrow and Merton, The WISH Centre significantly improves young people’s mental health and reduces A&E attendances.
The report finds that The WISH Centre makes a difference to young people by combining counselling and psychotherapy with facilitated peer support and outreach to young people in schools and communities. It finds that young people who attend WISH have far fewer A&E attendances during that time than before, and at least two-thirds of young people had improved wellbeing after receiving therapy and over 80% reduce or stop self-harming.
Interviews with young people attending WISH found that it provided multiple benefits, including helping them to cope better with mental distress, making friends with other young people attending WISH, feeling more able to ask for help and more confident, and achieving better at school, college and work.
The report concludes that The WISH Centre’s approach creates a safe space in which young people can get expert help in dealing with difficult issues and feelings while also helping each other. And by reaching out into schools and communities it helps to tackle stigma and make it easier for young people to seek help.
The reports calls on NHS clinical commissioning groups and on local authorities to commission services similar to The WISH Centre to support young people who are struggling with self-harm, at a scale that will be sufficient to meet the level of need.
Report author Dr Graham Durcan said:
Young people who self-harm are at greater risk of prolonged poor mental health and of dying too soon. The WISH Centre’s distinctive approach offers young people a space in which to talk, to get help and to help each other. It fills a major gap in children and young people’s mental health services.
“We would like to see services like WISH available nationwide. There is scope for The WISH Centre’s approach to be extended, for example to offer help for parents and to reach out to young men and young LGBT+ people. And we need to tackle the stereotypes, myths and about self-harm through a nationwide programme to increase awareness and encourage more young people to seek help.”
Rowena Jaber, Director, The WISH Centre said: “Young people who self-harm or are suicidal who come to WISH have often been ‘through the system’ and have given up hope of being understood or listened to. They also may feel their problems are uniquely their own. They tell us about the sense of relief and release they have in the groups being able to speak without stigma or judgement, and to realise they are not alone. The peer mentors who are close to their age can provide a real support and motivation to start to believe that there could be a different future for them, as there is a real understanding and empathy. Until a young person is motivated to want to even begin to think about stopping self-harm the journey cannot truly begin.”