Dara and Eoghan — who only wanted to be identified by their first names — said it was talking about the problem rather than medication that had worked best for them.
Eoghan told a major conference on self-injury in Trinity College Dublin, that he first became depressed when he was 15 years old because he was unhappy at school.
He started self-harming about a year later. “I did not know what self-harm was when I first started. I don’t even remember why,” said Eoghan.
“For me, personally, it put the world on pause. It gave me a moment to myself. I just felt everything else had gone away.”
It was many months later that he revealed to his mother Dara, that he was self-harming.
Eoghan, who was being constantly bullied because he was gay, was eventually advised by the principal that it would be better if he left the school.
After leaving school, Eoghan became afraid of leaving his home.
He began cutting himself more frequently and started drinking heavily.
Eventually, he told his mother he could not cope and they agreed a few weeks in a psychiatric hospital would be helpful.
“I was by far the youngest person there by about 30 years,” Eoghan recalled. “I felt exceptionally low and very neglected and had no counselling.”
At one point, he had to strip naked so a medic could check whether he was still cutting himself. “They were more concerned at stopping me from cutting myself instead of asking me why I was doing it.”
At the end of three weeks, a borderline personality disorder was diagnosed.
“For Eoghan to be given that diagnosis was pretty horrific,” said Dara.
A specialist at the hospital later explained that because Eoghan was self-harming, it had to be described as a disorder. Eoghan went back to a counsellor who had seen him earlier and she played a leading role in his recovery. “The doctors were just so detached. They just didn’t get it,” he said.
Dara said it was so important that people like her son were listened to. “Self-harm is not an illness, it is a coping mechanism.
“People self-harm every day of the week by over-eating, smoking or drinking or dangerous activities.”
Eoghan said he had reached a happy ending but was concerned about others who self-harmed.
“The focus on the condition has to move away from the physical act because it is all about your own self worth,” said Eoghan, who is now 18 and completing his education through a Youthreach programme.
Dr Kay Inckle of TCD School of Social Work and Social Policy, who organised the conference, said there was a need for a radical rethink of our understanding and response to self-injury in Ireland. “We need to base our response to self-injury on the stated needs and experiences of people who self-injure, not on remote policy or statistics,” she said.