Bringing Mental Health Support into the 21st Century

A year ago, I found an advert sent out by the University’s volunteering hub to work on an innovative new app called “Self-Heal”. Having won […]

A year ago, I found an advert sent out by the University’s volunteering hub to work on an innovative new app called “Self-Heal”. Having won funding from the Oxford IT innovation challenge, a group of students had recently developed the app, with input from clinicians, as a toolkit for students to manage self-injury. It covers shorter and longer term solutions as well as containing a large information section and a list of useful links and phone numbers. Self-harm is a really important issue, especially effecting young people- including some of my closest friends- so this felt like a great initiative for me to get involved in. A recent study showed that 1 in 15 people have self-harmed at some point in their life, plus additional NHS figures show a dramatic rise in the number of teens and young people self-harming over the past 10 years. This shocking trend has been partially blamed on the negative influences of social media and the growing pressures to succeed in school and university. When over half of people who commit suicide have a history of self-harm, the demand to find more ways of supporting young people at risk is greater than ever before. Since joining the team at Self-Heal, I have witnessed the positive impact this app can have for students struggling with day-to-day life, even friends suffering from panic attacks have reported the benefits of this free download.

Why do people self-harm? The highly addictive act of self-injury (a broad term commonly associated with cutting but also including burning, pulling out hair and preventing wounds from healing among other forms of self-mutilation or poisoning) is linked with depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorders and eating disorders. Self-injury, a way of expressing distressing emotions and relieving internal tensions, is both a coping mechanism and a way to punish oneself. People who self-harm can suffer from self-hatred and extremely low self-esteem and often have experienced psychologically traumatic events in their past. Should someone choose to seek help, there are many support networks and therapeutic techniques available- commonly counselling sessions are recommended or a course in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Our app bases its distraction tasks on another popular technique called dialectic behavioural therapy (DBT). In addition, our gallery of 750+ carefully selected pictures help promotes recovery by utilising the strong effects imagery has on our emotions, thoughts and outlook.

“An excellent tool alongside clinical treatment for teenagers experiencing self-harm.” – The British Psychological Society. We originally designed the Self-Heal app to support students at the University of Oxford, but now it has a fast-growing outreach across the UK. The app currently has over 600 downloads, plus recently received a positive review by the British Psychological Society ( ).


You can find out more, and download the app at:

(Image credit: Ceylan Scott)

About Gabriella Valk