29 Mar, 13 | by BMJ
Guest Post by Kerry Gutridge* and A.M. Calladine
Imagine you are a doctor, nurse or teacher and someone in your care asks for a razor. The person you look after wants to slice into their own skin and draw blood. They are compelled to hurt themselves. They have an overwhelming urge to feel a momentary visceral sense of pain. Would you provide them with a blade? Is it ever right to enable people in your care to harm themselves?
At first glance such questions may appear shocking and seem likely to elicit a strong gut reaction. Surely it can’t be right for people in a position of authority, with a duty of care to be seen to apparently condone or provide a means for vulnerable people to engage in such self-destructive behaviour?
Yet recent media reports (such as this and this) suggest that such a choice has already been made. Teachers at Unsted Park gave a “special needs” pupil sterile Bic safety blades so they could injure themselves in the privacy of the school bathroom. According to reports, staff checked in on the pupil every two minutes. After the pupil had finished cutting teachers cleaned and dressed their wounds.
The news story attracted a predictable sense of outrage. Readers commenting on newspaper message boards found the school’s decision at best incomprehensible and often disgusting and immoral. According to the top-rated comments on the Daily Mail website:
That’s Nuts! What’s wrong with these people??!!!
Absolutely shocking, I am by far an expert in the field but that sounds ridiculous to me
Unfortunately such feelings of revulsion and disgust are not limited to the comment boards of the Mail. One of the authors of this blog was told by another academic that their doctoral abstract on the subject of self-harm made them feel physically sick.
The news reports on the case at Unsted School are vague. The nature and severity of the pupil’s injuries are unclear and the age of the pupil is put between seven and nineteen. Without more detailed information it would be disingenuous to comment at length on this specific case. The Unsted Park School policy of allowing the pupil to self-harm has since been abandoned after some of the teachers complained to the local authority.
It is not the first time that the issue of institutional enablement or allowance of self-harm has been subject to scrutiny. more…