Self harm and Suicide Prevention

Suicide is a global public health concern and one of the leading causes of death in young people worldwide. We seek to understand the underlying factors that drive self-harming and suicidal behaviour in young people with multiple vulnerabilities and use that knowledge to develop targeted interventions. Our vision is to transform our understanding, conceptualisation and response to self-harm and suicide prevention in research, clinical practice, policy-making and community practices.

Please contact the Self-harm and Suicide Prevention Research Theme Leads for further information:
IMH Research Theme Lead - Dr Maria Michail
IMH Research Theme Co-lead - Dr Anna Lavis

We're making an impact...

Our aim is to understand how social, environmental, political, psychological, cultural and biological factors interact to make someone more vulnerable to suicidal behaviour or self-harm. Our goal is to develop evidence-based interventions and treatments across healthcare and non-healthcare settings to support vulnerable young people and their families.


A guide to help young people talk to their GP about self-harm and suicidal experiences has been developed by researchers at the University of Birmingham in partnership with a group of youth advisors.

Dr Maria Michail (with Dr Anna Lavis) will be Guest Editors of a Special Issue on Self-harm and Suicide Prevention among Young people  for the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 

Our current research

SEYMOUR: System Dynamics Modelling for Suicide Prevention

Key people: Dr Maria Michail

Tackling youth suicide rates with a novel system dynamics modelling approach.

Suicide is a leading cause of mortality among young people aged 15-29 globally. The EU-funded SEYMOUR project  explores how systems modelling and simulation can inform strategic decision making for suicide prevention in young people aged 12-25 in Australia and the UK.

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Suicide Prevention and Helplines

Key people: Dr Maria Michail

NSPCC Childline is the biggest helpline in the world, receiving approximately 300,000 substantive interactions each day via their website or by phone. The amount of online contact made through Childline is increasing, and now approximately 75% of all contact-making takes place via instant messaging, email and the website’s message board. We are working with the NSPCC to help the charity in its response to children who are at risk of suicide. 

We are reviewing existing Childline policies and practices, and carrying out focus groups and interviews with frontline staff at Childline and other helpline organisations across the world. The aim is to ensure Childline’s ability to assess and respond to suicide risk is informed by the best available evidence, and to ensure staff and volunteers have the best possible skills and the confidence to provide advice, support and to make referrals, where appropriate, to other frontline services.

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Suicide Prevention in Primary Care

Key people: Dr Maria Michail

Primary care is often the first and last healthcare contact for those who die by suicide including young people. We are developing and evaluating evidence-based interventions training and resources to support GPs in the assessment and management of vulnerable young people in primary care. We are doing this by:

  1. We are developing an electronic clinical decision support system for the assessment and management of suicide risk in primary care.

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2. We are creating an online, educational resource, developed in collaboration with the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) to provide GPs with evidence-based recommendations about how to assess and mitigate suicide risk in a consultation. 

3. Dr Maria Michail is co-chair of the International Association for Suicide Prevention Special Interest Group Suicide Prevention in Primary Care

Social Media and Self-Harm in Young People

Key people: Dr Anna Lavis

This study will offer understandings of why some young people who self-injure turn to social media for support and care. Funded by the Wellcome Trust, the study will reflect on the implications, as well as lessons, for prevention and intervention posed by this coming together of self-injury and social media. 

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Self-Harm and Suicide Content on Social Media: Exploring the Impact of Covid-19

Key people: Dr Anna Lavis

There is global concern about the potentially detrimental impact of social media on young people’s mental health. Against this background, calls for online technology providers to enhance safeguarding have particularly emphasised the dangers of self-harm and suicide content. This has been framed as encouraging or even causing acts such as self-cutting and burning, and completed suicide. 

In tandem, since the UK’s lockdown in March 2020, there has been a growing awareness of the mental health impact of COVID-19 and the ensuing social restrictions. To date, however, these discussions have not included an attention to social media. This is a crucial part of assessing the impact of COVID-19 on self-harm and suicidality in the UK, especially amongst young people. Social media offers insights that go beyond the linearity of an assumed trajectory from lockdown to rising rates of poor mental health and suicide. Instead, it offers real-time and nuanced understandings of why, and importantly when, suicidal acts and self-injurious behaviour may rise, showing their complex relationships with the current situation. 

Against the background of our previous Welllcome-funded research, we are therefore analysing the impact of COVID-19 on online self-harm and suicide content, through funding from Samaritans. Using online ethnography, we are collecting data across a range of social media platforms, from January 2020 onwards. This research will provide rapid results that will be of use to policymakers, practitioners and the third sector as we move through and beyond the current pandemic. 

Funder: Samaritans

Longitudinal study of young people with first-episode psychosis

Key People: Professor Rachel Upthegrove

Development of evidence for clinicians to better identify and intervene in depression and suicidal thinking in the context of emerging mental illness: this includes longitudinal study of young people with first episode psychosis, and those at risk of psychosis.

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 Our PhD research

Understanding self-harm and suicide among LGBTQ+ young people: a mixed methods study

This ESRC-funded PhD aims to understand self-harm, suicidal ideation and behaviour within LGBTQ+ young people, between the ages of 16 and 25 years. The project is supported by the LGBTQ+ Advisory Group, led by Jess. These individuals identify as LGBTQ+ and have lived experience of self-harm or suicide, they work with Jess to give expertise insight to the research. 

The project is a sequential, exploratory mixed method design, made up of 3 studies. A meta-analysis and systematic; qualitative interviews; and a prospective experience sampling study.

For updates on any publications please see

PhD Student: A. Jess Williams

Supervisors: Dr Maria Michail, Professor Ellen Townsend (University of Nottingham), Professor  Jon Arcelus (University of Nottingham)

Understanding the development and experience of self-harm in young Pakistani women in Karachi and Birmingham

Funded by the Global Challenges Scholarship scheme under the theme youth mental health, the aim of this research is to explore conceptualisations and experiences of self-harm in Pakistan, and in the UK in those of Pakistani heritage. By exploring culturally driven and migration influenced factors associated with self-harm, we hope to provide the evidence base for more effective prevention and treatment strategies.

PhD Student: Margaret Hardiman

Supervisors: Dr Maria MichailDr Anna LavisProfessor Rachel Upthegrove