I am a first year PhD researcher at the University of Bath interested in a digital intervention for self-harm in university students.
The move to university can be a stressful time. It can involve adapting to a new environment, gaining new independence and the associated pressures that this brings, leaving comfortable support networks behind, and new academic stressors. For many, it can also trigger the onset of self-harm, with this being twice as prevalent in university populations than in non-students of the same age. It has also been suggested that self-harm is more prevalent in university populations than in clinical samples, and that rates of self-harm are increasing over time.
Help-seeking for self-harm at university remains low; as it can be associated with shame and stigma, individuals are often reluctant to disclose it. It has been found that even students who are engaging in self-harm and are receiving therapy still do not disclose self-harm to their therapist. Unfortunately, those who do seek help are met with long waiting lists with both NHS and University counselling services running at full capacity.
There is a clear need for an accessible and discrete intervention for university students engaging in self-harm. Digital interventions offer a solution to this. The use of a smartphone application for self-harm could provide immediate and free support to individuals who are self-harming, without the need to verbally disclose it. ‘BlueIce’ is an app that has been co-developed with young people engaging in self-harm. So far, it has been shown to be effective in reducing self-harm, as well as levels of anxiety and depression in young people. This is the foundation for my PhD research, where I will be investigating if it can also be effective in reducing self-harm in university students. The main project in my PhD will be a trial of BlueIce. It will be rolled out to university students who are self-harming, and who are currently attending counselling services. This is to ensure their safety during this initial phase. If results are promising we will aim to make BlueIce freely available for all students through the university intranet, through which we will aim to also collect data on the effectiveness of BlueIce in populations not seeking formal help.
If anyone would like any more information about this, please feel free to email me on firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact me on twitter @bethanyjcliffe. I would be very interested to speak to people working in similar areas who may have any interesting insights to offer.
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