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Call to use self-harm poetry as training aid

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Poems and letters written by people who self-harm could be used to train nursing students, a UK nurse researcher has suggested.

Judith Reece, senior lecturer in nursing and healthcare practice at the University of Derby, said patients who self-injure often found it difficult to talk about what
was happening.

But the ‘horror, pain and confusion’ they expressed in written material could be used to help nursing students understand more about the type of patient they are dealing with, she suggested.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, between one in 12 and one in 15 young people self-harm. Self-injury is the reason behind 142,000 admissions to A&E departments in England and Wales every year.

Many of these patients are seen as ‘time-wasters’ or attention-seekers, and nurses do not know how to help them, said Ms Reece.

‘Offering trainee nurses the opportunity to read the views of self-injurious patients might help them develop a more empathic view and work to address the real cause of the self-harm – not just tackling the physical wound or examining the immediate psychological presentation,’ she said.

Ian Hulat, RCN mental health adviser, said: ‘People who self-harm are a particularly challenging client group but even people who challenge us in the way they behave deserve good standards of care.

‘If a nurse believes a client is a time-waster, this will leak into the way they treat them and the client will feel more judged and worthless than they do already,’ he said.

Jane Bunclark, clinical nurse lead in the crisis recovery unit at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, said: ‘From general practice to gynaecology, nurses will encounter patients who self-harm in a variety of settings.’

She added: ‘It is a complex condition to grasp so training does need to start at pre-registration level.’

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