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Posted on May 12 2022 by Fiona Bailey

Self-harm and body image were the key themes that dominated the third day of Headfest which is taking place during Mental Health Awareness Week in Northampton’s Filmhouse.

Paul Hanrahan, who is a teacher at the St Andrew’s Healthcare College, took to the stage to introduce parents and fellow teachers to self-harm behaviour and explained why people tend to do it.  

He said: “Self-harm is used to communicate feelings of distress, give relief from emotional pain and tension, regain a feeling of control, or as self- punishment for feelings of guilt or shame. It is absolutely not attention seeking and is often a secretive and private act.”

Self-harm is a behaviour which is thought to impact about 18 per cent of students aged between 12 and 17 and females are more likely to participate.

Paul also highlighted some of the early signs of whether someone might be self-harming which include constantly being involved in unexplained accidents or injuries, remaining fully covered even in warm weather and regularly finding sharp objects or cutting implements among a person’s belongings.

In addition to introducing some minimisation strategies, Paul also talked about the St Andrew’s Healthcare LightBulb programme, which has been created to help schools to demonstrate and showcase excellence regarding mental health practice to regulatory bodies such as Ofsted.

He said: “LightBulb has been hugely popular and we introduced it to help reduce the stigma of mental health among young people and also to improve the understanding among people working in education about how mental health can impact children and young people.”

In the afternoon psychotherapist Liz Ritchie gave a talk about body image and how social media can impact people’s self-esteem. During her presentation, Liz highlighted when negative or positive ideas about our body can begin.

She said: “Your perceptions of your body image are formed in early childhood and research has shown that personality traits, such as perfectionism and self-criticism, can influence the development of negative body image.

“We also know that culture, family, and friends, as well as the media, can convey both positive and negative messages about our bodies. But it’s the negative thoughts and feelings which can be perpetuated through interactions with others. One thing we all need to bear in mind is that the media portrays an unrealistic ideal.”

Headfest was launched by BBC Northampton presenter Helen Blaby, with the support of St Andrew’s Healthcare and other partners including Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, Northamptonshire Mind and the Royal and Derngate.

Members of the public have been coming along to mental health-related talks, free self-care beauty treatments, workshops, and other activities all week.