Self-harm support system needs change

THE existing state support system for people who self-harm needs to be overhauled as it is too focused on crisis intervention and only allows access to help after they have been referred by non-specialised GPs.

The author of a new book on the condition – which involves a person cutting or injuring themselves as a release from pain – has concluded that funding problems and access difficulties are continuing to hamper the system.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Dr Kay Inckle, lecturer at the school of social work and social policy at Trinity College, said, despite improvements in supports available, the current service structure is not encouraging people to seek help.

As a result, the author of Flesh Wounds: New Ways of Understanding Self-Injury, said, unless the concerns of patients are taken on board, a significant number of those suffering from the condition will not get the support they need.

“This book is based on two years of qualitative research, and on the experience of people who self-injure and service providers. What it has found is that many people do not look for help, because the system is not supportive for them.

“Outside of independent groups like Pieta House, the only way someone can access a statutory service is if they are referred by a GP who may have no specific training for or knowledge of self-injury.

“The funding is not always there, and service providers need to make sure they do not come at a situation with pre-conceived ideas because talking to someone like they are suicidal may not be helpful for someone who is self-injuring,” Dr Inckle said.

“We need a broader, holistic approach which is led by the service user.”

According to the 2009 National Registry of Deliberate Self-Harm in Ireland, published by the National Suicide Research Foundation (NSRF), 11,996 people presented to hospital after self-harming last year. Almost 500 of these cases related to a person who had attended for the same issue in the previous 12 months.

The total figure, which includes sufferers from all age groups, is 5% higher than in 2009, and is the third consecutive annual rise recorded by the NSRF.

According to the 2009 report, 197 out of 100,000 men self-harmed last year – 21% higher than 2007.

The female rate is stable at 222 per 100,000 people.

* HSE suicide prevention and self-harm helpline, 6pm-10pm: 1800-742745

* Independent group Pieta House: 01-6010000,, or visit


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