Experts bid to tackle surge in self-harm

By Nigel Gould

16 February 2005

Belfast Telegraph

Health experts were today meeting community leaders in a major bid to dramatically reduce soaring Ulster rates of suicide and self-harm.

They are aiming to curb a problem that is growing, particularly Belfast.

Latest shock figures show that every year around 1,000 people attend the casualty unit with self-harm injuries.

And in 2003 there were 132 suicides in the Eastern Health Board area alone.

The figures emerged during a one-day conference today organised by the North and West Belfast Health and Social Services Trust, in partnership with Mater Hospitals Trust.

It was attended by a range of professionals working in the field and those with personal experience of self-harm.

Others among the 150-strong delegation were carers and representatives from voluntary, community and statutory organisations as well as churches and education.

A spokeswoman said: "Research has shown that there is a strong correlation between self-harming behaviour and suicide.

"While not all people who self-harm will complete suicide there is evidence that of those who die by suicide a high number will have had a previous suicide or self-harm attempt.

"Self-injury and suicide are major concerns for community, voluntary and statutory organisation as well as individuals."

Pat McCartan, chairman of the North and West Belfast Health Trust, said there was a need for a deeper understanding of why individuals self harm.

He said: "Self harm and suicidal behaviours are complex behaviours with multiple causes and require a co-ordinated range of support and treatment services.

"We want to use the day to begin to develop an action plan which will provide support to those engaged in self-injury and their families and carers. This conference will kick start that process."

The conference is part of an ongoing suicide prevention strategy developed by Northern West Belfast Health and Social Services Trust.

Mr McCartan added: "The prevention of suicide is a key priority of the Trust and we have therefore put in place a co-ordinated and ongoing strategy to address this issue.

"The bedrock of this strategy is working in partnership with our community and all concerned agencies to ensure awareness of the issues and access to support for individuals and families in crisis."