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An exploration of mechanisms of change in help-seeking for self-harm

Project Description

The decision to seek help can be the first step towards recovery for individuals who are struggling with self-harm, but it can also result in negative attitudes from others and lead to greater secrecy, feelings of shame, and potentially a exacerbation of the self-harm itself. Rates of help-seeking amongst those who self-harm are low (9-26%) for both informal (e.g. family or friends) and formal (e.g., GP, clinician) sources of support. Various factors, including stigma, shame, and the way both services and self-harm itself is perceived have been linked to help-seeking. However, research to date has been limited by an overly static model of help-seeking, which does not recognise the potentially fluctuating and dynamic nature of the processes surrounding help-seeking. Previous research also has under-explored the potentially powerful influence of previous experiences of help-seeking upon the likelihood of someone seeking help again. The proposed project would focus on better understanding the psycho-social mechanisms that underlying help-seeking behaviour for this population, adopting a dynamic and socially contextualised approach to understanding these phenomena.

We are interested in supervising an innovative, mixed-methods PhD that will focus on a) developing a psychological model of help-seeking in self-harm and b) identify potential ways in which effective help-seeking can be improved for individuals who are struggling with self-harm.

The project would combine qualitative and quantitative methods of research. The former will allow a more socially contextualised and in depth picture of help-seeking for specific individuals, whilst the latter methodology will help to identify patterns in help-seeking behaviour and test hypotheses concerning specific processes.

The supervisory team will support training in research methodologies including systematic reviewing, interviewing, ethnographic and participatory approaches to qualitative research, and qualitative and quantitative data collection. The supervisory team will also support training and developing of competencies with regards to both quantitative (regression models and management of multi-level data) and qualitative data analysis (narrative analysis) as part of the projects mixed-method focus. Opportunities for development of dissemination skills will be available through presentation at local research and interest groups, and attendance at conferences. Through the PhD there will be opportunities to actively participant in the thriving research culture at the University of Manchester.

Candidates are expected to hold (or be about to obtain) a minimum upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in a related area or subject (e.g. psychology). Candidates who hold or are due to attain a relevant Master’s degree (e.g. research methods, clinical and health psychology) will be preferred. We are interested in candidates who have an understanding of the epistemologies and practices of qualitative and quantitative research methods. Candidates with experience in mental health research or clinical practice (e.g. relevant masters project or voluntary work), or with an interest in mental health, especially self-harm, are encouraged to apply.

Funding Notes

This project has a Standard Band fee. Details of our different fee bands can be found on our website (View Website). For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website (View Website).

Informal enquiries may be made directly to the primary supervisor () or co-supervisor ().


1. Evans, E., Hawton, K., & Rodham, K. (2005). In what ways are adolescents who engage in self-harm or experience thoughts of self-harm different in terms of help-seeking, communication and coping strategies? Journal of Adolescence, 28, 573-587.

2. Hunter, C., Chantler, K., Kapur, N., & Cooper, J. (2012). Service user perspectives on psychosocial assessment following self-harm and its impact on further help-seeking: A qualitative study. Journal of Affective Disorder, 145, 315-323.

3. Nada-Raja, S., Morrison, D., & Skegg, K. (2003). A population-based study of help-seeking for self-harm in young adults. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 37, 600-605.

4. Rickwood, D., Deane ,F.P., Wilson, C.J., &Ciarochi, J.V. (2005). Yound peoples help-seeking for mental health problems. Australian e-Journal for Advancement of Mental Health, 4, 1-34.

5. Rowe, S. L., French, R. S., Henderson, C., Ougrin, D., Slade, M., & Moran, P. (2014). Help-seeking behaviour and adolescent self-harm: A systematic review. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 48, 1083-1095.

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