Daily Ireland

Combat self-harm call

A leading consultant psychiatrist will today call for a co-ordinated approach to combat the alarming numbers of people who self-harm in the North of Ireland.
Dr Maria O’Kane will speak in Belfast to a delegation of 150 representatives from voluntary, community, statutory organisations, churches, and the education sector who hope to put in place a self-harm action plan by this evening.
Each year, approximately 1,000 people attend the Accident and Emergency Department in the Mater Hospital in Belfast with injuries resulting from deliberate self-harm. Research has shown that there is a strong correlation between self-harming behaviour and suicide.
However, the Zest counselling support service in Derry is testament to the impact that counselling can have in terms of preventing suicide amongst those who self-harm.
The centre helps up to 500 people who self-harm each year, but since it was founded in 1996, they have received no reports of suicide amongst those who have completed counselling treatment.
Project manager at the centre, Noella McConnellogue, has a past history of trauma and self-harm in her own life.
She says that the North of Ireland has a dire need for more services like Zest: “Hundreds of people here are crying out for help,” she told Daily Ireland yesterday.
“But it’s an issue that people are frightened of. Our consultation group of young people say that they need people to stop looking at the scars and start seeing the emotion and hurt that is causing it. If we deal with the underlying issue, there’s a very strong chance that the sufferer won’t take their life.”
Ms McConnellogue, who suffered severe trauma as a teenager when her father was killed in an explosion, explained that self-harm is sometimes associated with alcohol or drug abuse: “In these cases, people tend to think that if the person simply stops drinking or using drugs, they would stop harming themselves. But that’s not the solution. We need to address the underlying issues.”
Medical evidence has shown that of those who die by suicide, a high number will have had a previous suicide or self-harm attempt. The North’s suicide rate is considerably higher than Britain, with 19 people in every 100,000 taking their own lives. Between July and September of last year, 31 people died through suicide in the North.
However, statistics are lower than in the South, where suicide accounts for almost a third of all deaths in the 15-to 24-year-old age group.
Figures released for the South show that in real terms more people in the 15-24 age group are taking their own lives than are killed in road accidents.
Pat McCartan, North and West Belfast Health and Social Services Trust Chairman, said that the scale of the response to today’s conference, which has been organised by the trust in association with the Mater Hospital, is indicative of the concern and need in the community for support and services.
“Self-harm and suicidal behaviours are complex behaviours with multiple causes and require a co-ordinated range of support and treatment services,” said Ms McCartan.
“We want to use the day to begin to develop an action plan which will provide support to those engaged in self-injury and their families and carers. This conference will kick-start that process.

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