1 May 2019

Examining emergency department practices for young people who self-harm

Examining emergency department practices for young people who self-harm

The ways in which emergency departments manage young people who present with self-harm will be monitored as part of a large-scale study launched by Orygen.

The research study is being conducted at Victorian emergency departments located at the Royal Melbourne, Sunshine, Footscray and Williamstown hospitals, with plans to extend the study to an additional two rural and two metropolitan hospital sites during 2018/2019.

Associate Professor Jo Robinson, who is leading the study and is head of suicide prevention research at Orygen, said the primary objectives of the study were to examine how many young people present to emergency departments (EDs) across Victoria due to self-harm, identify any demographic trends among those who present to EDs as well as the treatment they receive.

The study will examine what barriers exist to providing optimal care in emergency departments, will develop an ongoing system for monitoring self-harm presentations and review and refine existing data collection procedures to ensure they align with international best practice, Associate Professor Robinson said.

Self-harm was widespread with approximately 8% of young people aged 20-24 reporting that they have harmed themselves in the past, she said. “Self-harm is more prevalent in younger age groups and is a risk factor for additional episodes of self-harm, subsequent suicide and premature death.”

The study has three major components:

  • an examination of self-harm presentations made by young people aged nine and older over the past eight years;
  • an examination of hospital staff perceptions of the current barriers to delivering optimal care for young people who self-harm and present to emergency departments; and
  • an examination of young people’s perspectives of the treatment they received.

Associate Professor Robinson said the study would allow for an improved understanding of the extent and nature of self-harm presentations in the participating hospital emergency departments and would help identify opportunities for change. “The recommendations that will come from this project will support improved outcomes for patients and positive changes for emergency department staff,” she said.

“The findings will also lead to the development of a more robust database on self-harm and an ongoing monitoring system to track self-harm presentations and the subsequent care provided to young people.”