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Self-harm prevention app launched by Oxford students

An app has been developed by Oxford University students with the aim of preventing students from self harm. Funded by the Oxford IT Innovation Challenge, Self-Heal is an anonymous and independent application that allows students to access motivation for recovery independently.

Self-Heal uses distraction tasks which are “inspired by techniques used in dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT), which is the frontline psychological therapy used in the UK to treat self-harm”. A gallery of over 750 different images and captions is used to motivate recovery, whilst the app also provides “distraction” techniques which is a key coping strategy to combat self-harming. Distraction methods include meditation and relaxation techniques, activities, and thought-provoking videos. Useful websites, articles and contact numbers are also available on the app at a click of a button in case of emergency.

It is estimated that 10 per cent of young people self-harm, with higher rates among women of which almost 1 in 5 between the ages of 16- 25 self-harm, which also leads to an increased risk of suicide.

Hadassah Buechner, a biomedical science undergraduate, has been working on the team to develop the app since July 2016, concerned about the stigma surrounding mental health issues like bipolar and schizophrenia. She argued that Self-Heal provides more immediate and accessible care than other support systems.

Buechner told Cherwell she wanted to widen the variety of support concerning mental health, emphasising that raising awareness about mental health problems should be a “top priority” for all Universities as academic stress has significantly contributed to its increase. Although the discussion about mental welfare and support is available in Universities, Buechner argues that this discussion “hasn’t yet reached its goal.”

The University currently offers both individual and group counselling services, a Peer Support Programme and weekly work shops such as mindfullness, combatting insomnia and overcoming panic. OUSU also provide mental health support through campaings such as Mind Your Head. Students can also see counsellors within college or their college doctor for mental health advice.

This news comes amid recent reports that demand for student mental health support including counselling has risen by 50 per cent in the last five years. First-year and international students are par- ticularly vulnerable, with higher proportions seeking counselling.

Keith Hawton, Professor of Psychiatry at Oxford, who has focused his research into self-harm told Cherwell that self-harm is an “extremely important public health issue” with a major impact on families, friends and colleagues.

Dervla Carroll, welfare representative at St Anne’s College JCR, sees the app as a step forward for mental health in Oxford. She told Cherwell, “We need to recognise the necessity of creating tools which are effective in managing ongoing mental health issues while simultaneously allowing easy integration into students lives. People who self-harm often struggle with a variety of triggers. For example, some people struggle with certain times of the day. In my opinion, this app is a natural step towards improving resource accessibility, which can only help to empower those struggling with self-harm.”

This follows recent improvements in how Oxford University is responding to mental health challenges. Student minds, a mental health charity for students, runs workshops at the start of every academic year. Nightline is a number that any student can call throughout the night for reassuring words. The service is free, anonymous and completely independent. It’s staffed by students from Oxford and Oxford Brookes from 0th week to 9th week running between 8pm and 8am.

The app is available now to download for free on Android and Apple.

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