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Around half of people who self-harm do not seek any form of help, according to a new survey from Samaritans Ireland
Ahead of World Mental Health Day (10 October), Samaritans Ireland say that more needs to be done to improve services to better support people who self-harm. In total, 132 people in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland took part in the survey. Participants were predominantly ethnically white (93%), female (85%) and from the Republic of Ireland (83%), with a majority being under the age of 35 (67%), living in a household that made below £39,999 (€43,932) (66%) and heterosexual (58%).
Findings suggest that those who are at increased risk of self-harm are also those who are less likely to seek support - young people, people from the LGBTQI+ community, and people from lower income households. Where participants did not seek supports from a GP or medical professional, the most commonly cited reasons were that they did not think their self-harm was serious enough to do so, they were not comfortable going to a GP about self-harming or they did not think that a GP would or could help.
Just over half of participants sought supports after last self-harming, with the most common source of support being a GP or medical professional and the remaining participants who sought support, sought it from non-medical sources such as family, friends, self-help, volunteer/community groups or through online/phone support groups.
The majority of participants that did visit a GP after self-harming were provided with follow-up state health support services such as talk therapies or further referrals while a small number were offered community/non-medical supports.
A number of participants volunteered examples of feeling judged, feeling concerned about confidentiality and being mistreated. The report emphasises the importance of professionals who may encounter people who have self-harmed playing a crucial role in supporting them through compassionate, patient and non-judgemental care.
At least half of the participants rated all seven different types of supports as not useful or only slightly useful. Online support groups, forums or advice sites, self-help (e.g. mindfulness or sport) and friends were perceived as the most useful followed by medical professionals. School, university or work supports, followed by support from family and group activities, were perceived least useful.
Niall Mulligan, Executive Director for Samaritans Ireland, said: “To provide better support to people who self-harm, and to promote interventions that prevent self-harm progressing and becoming more serious, it is essential to understand who is engaging in self-harm and what works in terms of support for them after self-harming. This report collates data collected by Samaritans from people who have self-harmed in the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland, in order to better understand their help-seeking experiences.”
The survey makes a number of key recommendations to provide better support to people who self-harm:
To ensure individuals feel supported to reach out for help, the root cause(s) of stigma associated with self-harm needs to be better understood and subsequently addressed within the public and health professional settings. More needs to be done to reduce the stigmatisation so individuals who self-harm do not fear or face judgement and are more willing to seek help.
It is imperative that the variation in availability of resources, services, and general management and assessment procedures at A&Es across the country are reviewed to allow for equal and appropriate treatment to be provided regardless of where an individual who self-harms presents for help. Everyone who self-harms should be entered into a care pathway that meets their individual needs – this includes ensuring GPs, A&Es, and schools/universities all have the skills and resources to respond effectively to every person they see.
While everyone is different, some common reasons why people may self-harm are to express emotional distress or difficult feelings, or to feel more in control of their lives. COVID-19 has introduced rapid changes to supports and services. Our research has shown the pandemic and the lockdown have particularly impacted three groups at an already high risk of suicide – middle-aged men, young people, and individuals with pre-existing mental health conditions. Ensuring appropriate support is available is more important than ever and Samaritans is calling for continued financial support to ensure helplines, such as ours, are on a sustainable footing through and after the pandemic so we can continue to be there for anyone who is struggling to cope.
In relation to the Republic of Ireland, the findings from this report reiterate the importance of implementing the seven strategic goals of Connecting for Life, the National Strategy to Reduce Suicide 2015-2020 and for clear funding investments into the new Mental Health Policy, Sharing the Vision. In Northern Ireland, similarly, it requires allocating sufficient funding to, and implementing Protect Life 2, the Northern Ireland suicide prevention strategy in full as well as a clear focus on self-harm in the new Mental Health Strategy for Northern Ireland.
We need to better understand what individuals want and need within their care pathways with an overall recognition that individual needs may be influenced by other social and economic determinants of health. This report highlights the fact that individuals who are at increased rates of self-harm are also those who are less likely to seek support –young people, LGBTI+ people and people from lower income households. Responses also indicate that if help is sought, it may not always be fit for purpose. More should be done to understand how to further support these individuals by providing appropriate resources to gather lived-experiences to better inform the targeting and development of supports (including online and/or self-help programmes) and encourage help-seeking behaviours.
The full report is available below.
Notes to editors
- Samaritans Ireland Executive Director Niall Mulligan and Policy Officer Louise Hamra are available for interview. For more information or an interview please contact Ciaran Brennan on [email protected] or 085 860 5554
- Anyone can contact Samaritans FREE any time from any phone on 116 123, even a mobile without credit. This number won’t show up on your phone bill. Or you can email [email protected] or visit www.samaritans.ie to find details of your nearest branch.
- Samaritans has 21 branches across Ireland and each branch in Ireland is run as an independent charity and given administrative support from Samaritans Ireland, Usher’s Quay, Dublin, and Samaritans Central Charity in Ewell, UK.