Michelle Atkinson is Consumer Educator at the Mental Health Education Team in Ko Awatea. Michelle recently won ‘Best Poster for a Youth Led Project’ at the Third International Youth Mental Health Conference in Montreal for her poster addressing self-harm education.
Self-harm is an important issue to me due to my own experiences self-harming as a teenager, the experiences of my friends, and the distress it causes communities. Despite it being a very common issue among school-aged students, many young people are alienated, invalidated, or controlled after disclosing self-harm. Common responses to self-harm are generally unhelpful and do not create a healthy environment that fosters recovery.
As an adult working in the sector, I am aware of how this affects the populations we serve – young people who are self-harming struggle to access appropriate support, leaving their communities and families distressed. Even though self-harm among young people has been common for more than ten years, non-mental-health professionals working in the community (such as counsellors) often don’t receive specific training to address it. Consequently, they can lack some of the basic knowledge and skills that specialist services have, but whose access criteria exclude many self-harming young people.
To fill this gap, I developed a half-day training to help community professionals understand self-harm and recognise the importance of their own feelings, reactions, and sense of containment when working with a young person who has disclosed. Included in the training is a toolkit for helping young people to minimise and stop self-harming, featuring delaying and distracting techniques, identifying and minimising triggers, dialectics, and the role of sensory modulation. I also provided information on other resources and services related to self-harm, and the importance of talking to communities, families, and young people about healthy and helpful responses. Participants appreciated the lived experience I brought to the training and the opportunity to have blunt questions answered honestly.
Upon being invited to present about this training in poster format at the Third International Youth Mental Health Conference in Montreal, I wanted to make sure that I captured the key components (and the issues they attempt to address) in a youth-friendly format – so I hired illustrator Sam Orchard. The finished product is an enormous comic that has not only attracted interest (and an award) at the conference, but also back in Auckland as a possible resource for primary health services, communities, and families.
To see Michelle discuss the video, please follow this link: