The organisation’s director of research Dr Paul Surgenor said the increase in the figures up to the end of last year could actually be seen as a positive development as it indicated more people were coming forward to get help.
Pieta House operates a number of services to assist people who self-harm or with suicidal ideation and was co-organiser of a conference held at the Aviva Stadium yesterday on the subject of self-harm, alongside St Patrick’s Mental Health Services.
Other speakers included Blindboy Boatclub of the Rubberbandits and the Ombudsman for Children Dr Niall Muldoon.
It was the second consecutive year the event has been held and Dr Surgenor said despite there now being a much greater awareness of mental health issues, stigma around the topic still remained.
Yesterday was Self-Injury Awareness Day and Dr Surgenor said despite some excellent work being conducted there was still a lack of co-ordination regarding how the issue can be dealt with.
“Over the last five years we have seen a 165% increase in young people under 18 presenting with self-harm,” he said.
“A large proportion of those who come to us have not been to an ED (Emergency Department) at all.
“The more people who come to us does not mean that it is getting worse. It’s good that they are coming into us seeking support and getting help.”
Dr Surgenor said Pieta House had made a conscious effort to talk more directly to young people, particularly through developing a schools’ programme that is likely to be rolled out nationally later in the year.
He said other initiatives included community workshops and engaging with parents, teachers and anyone else who works with children to help inform them about indications of self-harm and how to deal with it.
Dr Surgenor also said more resources needed to be made available to teachers and parents and other possible initiatives, such as an out-of-hours service or a separate phoneline, would also help. He said in an “ideal world” there would be EDs for mental health.
“What we do not want is people turning to Google and searching as they are as likely to find a forum that encourages it [self-harm] as discourages,” he said.
Dr Muldoon said: “Sometimes self-harm can be the main subject of the complaint we receive. Recently a complaint was made on behalf of a young person who presented to more than one hospital over a short period of time, self-harming and feeling suicidal.
It was not until an attempt at suicide was made that the young person was admitted to hospital, as it was then a medical situation. This is a story that is all too familiar to many of you and which highlights the importance of addressing the risk of self-harm at an early stage.
“I think in Ireland we are mesmerised by the act of self-harm and do not spend enough time getting to the cause of it.”
Dr Muldoon said his office would work on developing children’s rights and said this would include increasing awareness, including in the area of self-harm.