Skip to main content

A support tool for friends of people who self-harm

Dr Hannah Heath engaged local support services with her engagement project to create a support tool for friends of people who self-harm.

People seated around a table talking
Participants at a focus group.


Over the course of her doctoral studies into the experiences of the friends of those who self-harm, Hannah identified a lack of support provision for this group. Working with local support services and this target group through a number of focus groups Hannah co-produced a tool to support friends of people who self-harm.

Engagement type - Working Together, Listening

Public group - Friends of people who self-harm and practitioners at self-harm support services

Engagement method - Focus groups

Themes - Health and wellbeing, mental health, young people

Project team

Dr Hannah Heath, Department of Psychology

Purpose of the engagement

The project aimed address the lack of support provision and resources for friends of people who self-harm. was developed.

Project background

Self-harm is a key healthcare issue facing young people. Hannah’s research focused on the experiences of the friends of those who self-harm, and those who support them. She was interested in exploring how young people make sense of supporting a friend who self-harms, and what impact this has on the friendship. Her research demonstrated that friends often do not know how to support their friend, and often take on excessive levels of responsibility for their friend’s welfare.

Engagement approach

Hannah wanted to ensure that the resource she created would be used and be of value by friends who support people who self-harm. She decided to take a co-production approach to developing this resource over two phases using focus groups made up of the target group and local support services. This approach would involve two phases, an initial phase creating the resource together and second phase refining the prototype or draft resrouce.

Focus groups

Over the course of the project Hannah delivered eight focus groups over two phases.

Creating phase

Working with local support services Hannah had engaged during her research she recruited 24 participants made up of friends of people who self-harm and support service practitioners. During this 'creating' phase Hannah hosted five focus groups to seek sought input and responses from participants based on their experiences on specific topics that emerged from her research. She later analysed this input and used it to create content for the resource. Also as part of this first phase, Hannah sought feedback on the nature of the type of resource that would be most useful for the participants.

Refining phase

Taking the responses from the focus groups from this first phase, Hannah developed a draft resource in collaboration with some of the specialist support staff she’d recruited as part of the project. In order to test this resource, Hannah convened three more focus groups and presented the resource and asked for feedback from the participants. Taking the input of the groups into consideration Hannah developed a final version of the resource, A Tool to Support Friends of People who Self-harm.


Hannah used a self-reflective approach to evaluating the project as well as capturing feedback from participants through informal conversations. Reflecting her experiences Hannah:

  • developed new contacts and enlarged her network of practitioners from self-harm support services
  • developed new skills in design software
  • gained confidence in her skills at communicating her research to non-academic groups
  • raised the profile of her research though participation in a local radio show on BCfm promoting the tool

The support staff who participated also found it a valuable experience to reflect on their own practice:

'Taking part in this project was a really valuable exercise for our organisation - it gave us a chance to share our expertise and spend time thinking about new areas and other aspects of our work.'

Top tips

Co-production recognises participants as experts of their own circumstances and involves them in generating research knowledge alongside the researcher. If you’re interested in public engagement projects that involve co-production, Hannah has a top tip that might be useful:

'Be prepared for no-shows; assume that for every focus group you organise at least two people will not show up. Think through how you can adapt activities in the light of no-shows.'

Find out more

Hannah's support tool for friends of people who self-harm is available to download

Contact us

If you want to discuss how you might engage publics in or with your research, the Public Engagement Unit can help.