Conversations with a keynote: Assoc Prof Penny Hasking

Alliance of Girls' Schools Australasia / 12 March 2020

In the second of our ‘Conversations with a keynote’ series we hear from Associate Professor Penny Hasking about self-injury. Although the Asia Pacific Summit on Girls’ Education is currently postponed, Assoc Prof Hasking has some very interesting insights to share.

Assoc Prof Penny Hasking – Self-injury: The relationship to suicidal thoughts and behaviour

Penny Hasking is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Curtin University. Her primary research interest is in Non-Suicidal Self-Injury (NSSI) an area she has been researching for over 15 years. Much of this work has focused on socio-cognitive factors that initiate and maintain NSSI in youth, the needs of school staff who address NSSI in the school setting, and the views of parents of young people who self-injure. As the co-founder, and Chair, of the International Consortium on Self-Injury in Educational Settings (ICSES), she has led an international position paper on how best to address NSSI in secondary schools, and co-authored an international approach to responding to NSSI on university campuses. Assoc Prof Hasking is current President of the International Society for the Study of Self-Injury.

Can you give us a sneak peak into your presentation?

Up to 1 in 5 students report having engaged in self-injury – intentional damage to body tissue in the absence of suicidal intent. Although most common among young people at school and university, school staff (including principals, teachers, and mental health professionals) tell us they are unsure how to best address and respond to self-injury in the school context. In my talk, I will provide an overview of our current state of knowledge about self-injury, and its relationship with suicidal thoughts and behaviours. I will also explore some of the reasons we think that self-injury is associated with later suicidal thoughts and behaviours, and what we can do to best respond to NSSI in schools.

How important is it for schools to be informed about non-suicidal self-injury among girls?

Given the high rates of NSSI among school students, and the adverse consequences associated with the behaviour, it is critical that schools and school staff are appropriately informed about NSSI and how best to address it in a school context. It is important to be aware that NSSI is not about an attempt to suicide. Instead, it can be used as a way to avoid suicide. Yet many schools do not make this distinction in their policies and procedures. Failing to make this distinction risks further alienating young people, communicating that they are not understood, and risks inappropriate intervention and follow-up. Together, this reduces the chance a young person will reach out for help in future. Schools provide a unique opportunity to engage at-risk youth in conversation, link to services, and create on-site care and management plans.

How is self-injury linked to suicide?

Although non-suicidal self-injury, by definition, is not engaged with an intention to end life, it is the most reliable predictor of later suicidal thoughts and behaviours. The reasons for this association are not entirely clear. However, one prominent theory proposes that through repeated self-injury, a person can develop an increased belief in their ability to intentionally harm themselves – to deliberately take their life. When someone has a desire to end their life, this belief in the ability to do so may play a significant factor in suicide attempts.

What will educators be able to take away from your talk?

Educators will have a clearer understanding of self-injury, and why people self-injure. They will also walk away with an idea of the key elements of a school response to NSSI, and some strategies for responding to, and supporting, students who self-injure.