General Practitioners' Accounts of Patients Who Have Self-Harmed

Amy Chandler, Caroline King, Christopher Burton, Stephen Platt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: The relationship between self-harm and suicide is contested. Self-harm is simultaneously understood to be largely nonsuicidal but to increase risk of future suicide. Little is known about how self-harm is conceptualized by general practitioners (GPs) and particularly how they assess the suicide risk of patients who have self-harmed.

AIMS: The study aimed to explore how GPs respond to patients who had self-harmed. In this paper we analyze GPs' accounts of the relationship between self-harm, suicide, and suicide risk assessment.

METHOD: Thirty semi-structured interviews were held with GPs working in different areas of Scotland. Verbatim transcripts were analyzed thematically.

RESULTS: GPs provided diverse accounts of the relationship between self-harm and suicide. Some maintained that self-harm and suicide were distinct and that risk assessment was a matter of asking the right questions. Others suggested a complex inter-relationship between self-harm and suicide; for these GPs, assessment was seen as more subjective. In part, these differences appeared to reflect the socioeconomic contexts in which the GPs worked.

CONCLUSION: There are different conceptualizations of the relationship between self-harm, suicide, and the assessment of suicide risk among GPs. These need to be taken into account when planning training and service development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)42-50
Number of pages9
JournalCrisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention
Early online date17 Nov 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • self-harm
  • sociology
  • general practice
  • mental health
  • qualitative
  • suicide
  • self-injury


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