In a unique investigation being conducted by the St George's Hospital, Stafford, people who self-harm are being allowed to do it, but under supervision. Patients can cut themselves, but are also offered alternatives like holding ice cubes or wearing tight elastic bands.
"We have a duty of care, but there is a difference between that and taking a Big Brother approach," said nurse Chris Holley, who is running the St George's project. People who indulge in self-harm are mainly women who do it as a means to cope with a deep-rooted problem or abuse. Traditional treatment has been to take away knives or razors, or preventing people from self-harming. Speaking at the Royal College of Nursing European Mental Health conference, Ms Holley said that preventing people from doing self-harm could mean taking away a vital element in their ability to cope with stress and increasing the risk that they will become depressed and attempt suicide. She added that staff at the hospital talk to patients about injuring themselves, the time, the method and how to avoid infections from cuts. The Department of Health is presently carrying out a consultation exercise to look at women's mental health. "This is a really innovative way of trying to deal with what can be a very difficult issue," said Jo Lochrane, of the mental health charity Rethink. "Someone who self-harms is like someone who is addicted to alcohol. It's their way of coping and dealing with their feelings. You can't take that away and leave people with nothing."