There is a limited literature about self harm in people with learning disabilities. There are some qualitative studies, but mostly relating to forensic services. The researchers in this study were interested in the extent to which the beliefs that staff hold about self-harm influence their response to the behaviour.
The researchers used Q-methodology a research method used to study people’s subjectivity or viewpoint involving rank-ordering a set of statements from agree to disagree. They identified five distinct viewpoints held by staff about why people self harm. That self -harm is:
- individual, complex and emotionally meaningful;
- a means to communicate distress, whether or not you have learning disabilities;
- difficult to understand but seems to be a way to modify emotional states;
- a result of having learning disabilities and being different;
- meaningful within relationships.
The authors suggest that the viewpoints represent a variety of theories and discussions found in the literature and that some viewpoints are more likely to result in helpful responses to self-harm than others.
They conclude that there is a need for staff training promoting a comprehensive and individual understanding of self-harm in people with learning disabilities.
Staff beliefs about why people with learning disabilities self-harm: a Q-methodology study, Dick K et al in British Journal of Learning Disabilities, 39: 233–242