July 27, 2009

CARL O'BRIEN, Social Affairs Correspondent

A SIGNIFICANT increase in the rate of deliberate self-harm among young men may be linked to the economic downturn, according to the National Suicide Research Foundation.

Official figures to be published today show there were a total of 11,700 cases of deliberate self harm at hospital emergency departments last year involving more than 9,200 individuals.

Overall, the national person-based rate of self-harm increased significantly by 6 per cent to 200 per 100,000, compared to a rate of 188 per 100,000 in 2007.

The biggest increase was among men (up 11 per cent), the highest rate since records began six-years ago. There was a smaller increase among women (4 per cent).

Almost half of all presentations were by people aged under 30. The peak rate for women was in the 15-19 age group and for men in the 20-24 age group.

An increase in the level of self-harm was also observed among those aged 10-14 years.

In a commentary accompanying the findings, the National Suicide Research Foundation suggests that the significant increase may reflect health and social problems associated with the recession.

It called for more mental health awareness initiatives for the general public and professionals involved in services supporting people who are unemployed or who are experiencing financial difficulties.

The figures also indicate that the proportion of those who deliberately self harmed and left emergency units without being admitted increased since 2007.

It said there was particular concern for those who used highly- lethal methods of self-harm, such as attempted hanging and drowning.

“The admission rates varied considerably across hospitals and HSE regions reflecting a lack of uniform assessment procedures for this patient group,” the report said.

The group has recommended that the HSE implement minimum guidelines for the assessment of patients who selfharm. Such measures have been identified as a priority in Reach Out, the national suicide prevention strategy, as well as in a report by an Oireachtas committee into the high level of suicide in Irish society.

Prof Ivan Perry, director of the registry and head of UCC’s department of epidemiology and public health, said these findings highlighted the value of routine monitoring of hospital presentations with deliberate self-harm.

“Clearly, there are no easy solutions to the issues raised in this report. Preventing suicide and self-harm is a daunting challenge for our society,” he said.

“However, it is imperative that at a minimum in this period of recession we implement the strategies for suicide prevention devised in recent years, in particular the evidence based recommendations of Reach Out, our national strategy for action on suicide prevention.”

The increase of self-harm among young men – who also represent the highest risk of suicide – shows the need to develop a system that links self-harm data with suicide mortality data. This, the report says, would enhance our understanding of risk factors associated with suicide.

Similarly, the report says high rates of self-harm among adolescents aged 15-19 years, and among those aged 10-14 years, provides even greater impetus for evidence-based mental health programmes targeted at children and adolescents.

A range of helplines are available for those in need of support: The Samaritans (www.samaritans.ie or 1850 60 90 90). Aware (www.aware.ie or 1890 30 33 02) 


This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times