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The role of schools in children and young people’s self-harm and suicide: systematic review and meta-ethnography of qualitative research

Evans, Rhiannon ORCID: and Hurrell, Chloe 2016. The role of schools in children and young people’s self-harm and suicide: systematic review and meta-ethnography of qualitative research. BMC Public Health 16 , 401. 10.1186/s12889-016-3065-2

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Background Evidence reports that schools influence children and young people’s health behaviours across a range of outcomes. However there remains limited understanding of the mechanisms through which institutional features may structure self-harm and suicide. This paper reports on a systematic review and meta-ethnography of qualitative research exploring how schools influence self-harm and suicide in students. Methods Systematic searches were conducted of nineteen databases from inception to June 2015. English language, primary research studies, utilising any qualitative research design to report on the influence of primary or secondary educational settings (or international equivalents) on children and young people’s self-harm and suicide were included. Two reviewers independently appraised studies against the inclusion criteria, assessed quality, and abstracted data. Data synthesis was conducted in adherence with Noblit and Hare’s meta-ethnographic approach. Of 6744 unique articles identified, six articles reporting on five studies were included in the meta-ethnography. Results Five meta-themes emerged from the studies. First, self-harm is often rendered invisible within educational settings, meaning it is not prioritised within the curriculum despite students’ expressed need. Second, where self-harm transgresses institutional rules it may be treated as ‘bad behaviour’, meaning adequate support is denied. Third, schools’ informal management strategy of escalating incidents of self-harm to external ‘experts’ serves to contribute to non-help seeking behaviour amongst students who desire confidential support from teachers. Fourth, anxiety and stress associated with school performance may escalate self-harm and suicide. Fifth, bullying within the school context can contribute to self-harm, whilst some young people may engage in these practices as initiation into a social group. Conclusions Schools may influence children and young people’s self-harm, although evidence of their impact on suicide remains limited. Prevention and intervention needs to acknowledge and accommodate these institutional-level factors. Studies included in this review are limited by their lack of conceptual richness, restricting the process of interpretative synthesis. Further qualitative research should focus on the continued development of theoretical and empirical insight into the relationship between institutional features and students’ self-harm and suicide.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions for Public Health Improvement (DECIPHer)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
L Education > L Education (General)
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
Additional Information: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.
Publisher: BMC
ISSN: 1471-2458
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 15 May 2016
Date of Acceptance: 28 April 2016
Last Modified: 21 May 2023 00:35

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