Public holidays are the busiest times for self-harm emergencies, with St Patrick’s Day the worst of all, according to the first study of its type in Ireland, writes Cormac O’Keeffe .
The phenomenon has been described as a “paradox” of public holidays, with higher rates of traumatic incidents happening on days of celebration.
Examining more than 100,000 self-harm presentations to hospitals between 2007 and 2015, researchers found that there were, on average, 32 incidents on public holidays, compared to 27 on all other days.
The public holidays with the highest number of cases were St Patrick’s Day (44), followed by New Year’s Day (41). Behind that were New Year’s Eve, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday (all 35).
The public holidays with the lowest number of incidents were Christmas Eve (22) and Christmas Day (23), but the number jumped on Stephen’s Day (33).
Of the 100,000 self-harm incidents — on average, 11,600 a year — some 54% were women and almost two-thirds were aged under 55.
It found alcohol was present in 43% of all presentations on public holidays, compared to 38% on other days.
The findings are contained in research conducted by a team at the National Suicide Research Foundation and the departments of Epidemiology and Public Health and Obstetrics and Gynaecology at UCC.
“St Patrick’s Day had the highest number of presentations compared to all other public holidays, with a mean of 44 presentations (21 for males and 23 for females),” the report said.
Researchers found there was a 24% increased risk of alcohol being present on public holiday incidents. Although Christmas Eve and Christmas Day had one of the lowest number of incidents, alcohol consumption was highest (52% both days).
Alcohol levels were lower on St Stephen’s Day (47%), but the number of incidents was significantly higher (33). New Year’s Eve (35 presentations) had the third highest level of alcohol consumption (50%). Alcohol was present in 46% of self-harm cases on St Patrick’s Day.
The report, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, said findings confirmed patterns abroad on self-harm, demonstrating an overall increase in hospital-treated self-harm on public holidays.
“We have coined this observed pattern a ‘paradox’ of public holidays — while such days are generally perceived as a period of celebration or non-work, they may, in fact, be times of increased risk for self-harm among vulnerable individuals,” said the report.
“The increased risk of alcohol being present in self-harm presentations on public holidays that we found may suggest that there are more impulsive and aggressive self-harm acts occurring on these days.”
It said a higher rate of self-harming around New Year’s had been linked to the ‘Broken-Promise Effect’.
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.