Initial Responses to Cutting by Front-Line Workers in Schools

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Gargiulo, Marion
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In this thesis, I explore cutting, one form of self-harm, in the context of how teachers and other front-line workers might respond to a student who is cutting. Researchers recognize that this coping behaviour is used by many youth to deal with an array of intrapersonal and external stressors, including anxiety and depression. Cutting can be explained through a variety of models that include psychological, biological, developmental, and social contagion. The underlying factors behind the behaviour are multifaceted and, for any one individual, it is likely that multiple theories must be considered simultaneously to explain its occurrence. Beyond the scars and shame that can result from cutting, for some, self-harm can develop into an addiction. Youth who struggle psychologically, as indicated by self-harm, may need professional support. Responses of shock, panic, and disgust at another's self-harm can be detrimental and may discourage students from seeking support. School staff have an opportunity to alter the course of a student's self-harm and mental health issues. Through professional development that focuses on awareness and understanding, and responding in a calm, nonjudgmental manner, front-line workers can develop an appropriate response to cutting. While cutting is a coping behaviour and not an attempt at suicide, a response protocol must be in place in order to assess how much a student is at risk for serious harm.
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