Surge in self-harm incidents linked to effects of recession

More than 48,000 people — some as young at 10 — were hospitalised over a seven-year period after deliberately harming themselves.

A study by the National Suicide Research Foundation, the department of epidemiology at UCC and HSE South claims to provide the first national data on the incidence of hospital-treated self-harm in the world.

Voluntary groups working in the area praised the research, but said the total number self-harming was much higher as most did not attend hospital afterwards.

According to the report, the Irish National Registry of Deliberate Self-Harm recorded:

* 75,119 cases in 40 hospital emergency departments between 2003 and 2009;

* These involved 48,206 individuals, with 30% repeat harming;

* The incidence rate fell from 209 per 100,000 in 2003 to 184 in 2006, but rose to 209 in 2009;

* The average incidence rate was 198 per 100,000, ranging from 173 for men to 224 for women.

The report said the “most notable annual changes were successive 10% increases” in the male rate in 2008 and 2009, which researchers linked to the recession.

The research said peak rates in women were in the 15-19 age group (620 per 100,000) and men in the 20-24 age group (427).

Of the 48,206 people, 10,516 presented at least twice, 4,642 people more than three times, and 453 people at least 10 times.

The report said: “The increased DSH [deliberate self-harm] rates in Irish men in 2008 and 2009 was paralleled by an increase in the male suicide rate, and these changes coincided with the advent of the economic recession. These findings provide further evidence of the effect of recession on rates of suicidal behaviour and the need for preventative action.”

Joan Freeman of Pieta House said self-harm was the “most hidden behaviour” in Ireland.

She said most young people self-harming were not attempting suicide, but trying to cope with “intense distress”.

Paul Kelly of Console said the number of people hospitalised was “staggering” and gave “some indication where mental health was in this country”.

Both said the recession was placing huge strain on people.

* 1life suicide helpline: 1800 247100 or text HELP to 51444; Pieta House: 01 6010000 or pieta.ie; Samaritans: 1850 609 090

Key findings

* Drug overdoses were the sole method in 68% of cases (75% among women).

* Most common drugs were tranquillisers (42%), paracetamol (30%), and anti-depressants (22%).

* Alcohol was identified in 41% of cases.

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