Local Action Saves Lives
There are more than 6,000 suicides in the UK each year.
It is the biggest killer of men under 50, and the biggest killer of young people aged 20-34. But it is not inevitable.
Local councils in England and Wales have a responsibility to prevent suicide, and the Government has recently said that self-harm should be part of their plans. That’s because self-harm is a sign of great emotional distress and can sometimes mean that a person is at an increased risk of suicide.
We need all local councils to take this issue seriously, and make sure people who are at risk have access to the services they need.
‘Non-suicidal self-harm’ describes behaviour where someone deliberately causes physical harm to themselves without intending to kill themselves.
Although non-suicidal self-harm is often a person’s way of coping with difficult feelings and circumstances it is usually a sign of serious emotional distress which indicates a that a person needs support to help them deal with the underlying problems that are causing this. Research shows that people who self-harm are at a higher risk of suicide in future compared to people with no history of self-harm.
Yet many people who self-harm are not getting the treatment they need. By improving the support available to people who self-harm, more people will be able to receive the help they are entitled to in addressing the issues causing their distress and lowering their risk of suicide.
Self-harm prevention and local plans
Many people who self-harm do not seek medical help. This means that as well as improving the care and treatment that is available, more need to be done break down the stigma associated with self-harm and to raise awareness throughout local communities about self-harm and the support that is available.
Earlier this year the government added action on self-harm to the national suicide prevention strategy for England.
This means that local suicide prevention groups ought to be developing proactive community-based or school/college based initiatives in order to reach out to people who are self-harming who could benefit from the support available from the NHS.
Self-harm and A&E
In England and Wales there are at least 200,000 general hospital presentations for self-harm per year. The guidelines on the treatment of self-harm, developed by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), state that when someone attends hospital after an incident of self-harm they should be offered a full assessment so that the person can be supported through longer-term treatment such as a care plan should they want to be.
Yet currently only around 60% of people receive an assessment, often due to limited resources and a lack of specialist mental health staff in A&E. This means that many people who are struggling to cope are not being provided with the support they should be entitled to. Research has also found that the waiting times for assessments can be as long as 11 hours in some parts of the country.
Local hospital trusts must work to ensure that 100% of people who attend hospital following an incident of self-harm must be offered a full assessment as recommended by NICE and provided with long-term follow up care.