Health Communication and Psychological Distress: Exploring the Language of Self-harm
This study explores adolescents’ accounts of self-harm with a view to elucidate the implications for health care practitioners seeking to administer care to teenagers in English. Drawing on a corpus of 1.6 million words from messages posted on a UK-hosted adolescent health Web site, analysis began by identifying a range of keywords relating to self-harm. The subsequent contextual examination of these keywords afforded a close description of the contributors’ experiences of self-harm and the factors that resulted in their self-injurious behaviours. A recurring theme was that of the habitual nature of self-harm, with the act being represented as a form of addiction over which they had little control. Self-harmers construct the phenomenon as particularly powerful, and the act is formulated as the only effective means of relief from emotional turmoil. If we are to increase parents and health professionals’ ability to respond to self-injury in the medium of English, close linguistic attention to individuals’ accounts of self-harm is valuable. Online health resources are also valuable means of eliciting concerns from distressed adolescents who are often reluctant to seek support from professionals face-to-face.
Citation:Harvey, K. and Brown, B. (2012) Health communication and psychological distress: Exploring the language of self-harm. Canadian Modern Language Review, 68 (3) pp. 316-340