Monday 25 September 2017

Alcohol behind spike in people presenting to A and E after self-harm on St Patrick's Day and other public holidays

(Stock picture)
(Stock picture)

Rebecca Lumley

Alcohol is behind a spike in people presenting to A and E with self-harm injuries on public holidays, with St Patrick's Day showing the highest numbers of hospitalisations, new research suggests.

The trend has been described as the “paradox of public holidays”, referring to the unexpected increase in self-harm on days generally associated with celebration.

According to a study, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, alcohol consumption on these days may be a linked factor.

More than 100,000 self-harm cases between 2007 and 2015 were examined, with researchers finding that an average of 32 people presented to hospital with self-inflicted injuries on public holidays. This is compared to an average of 27 people on normal days.

St Patrick’s Day saw the highest number of presentations on average (44), closely followed by New Year’s day (41).

Alcohol was in the system of 43pc of people presenting on public holidays, compared to 38pc on other days. It was present in 46pc of cases on St Patrick’s Day.

“The increased risk of alcohol being present in self-harm presentations on public holidays that we found may suggest that there are more impulsive and aggressive self-harm acts occurring on these days” the report said.

The findings are part of a study carried out by the National Suicide Research Foundation and the departments of Epidemiology and Public Health and Obstetrics and Gynaecology at UCC.

The study’s lead researcher, Eve Griffin, said “strategies to target alcohol consumption may be important in reducing risk of suicidal behaviour, particularly those targeting specific periods and groups.”

The results mirror data collated by Samaritans Ireland, who say that bank holidays are the busiest times for them.

Samaritans Ireland provides a 24-hour helpline for people suffering from mental health difficulties or going through distress and, according to an impact report published last year, receives the highest volume of calls during public holidays.

The report states that the average number of calls received on a Bank Holiday Monday is 1,835, compared to 1,705 on a normal Monday.

Rachel Wright, Policy and Communications manager for Samaritans, believes this may occur for a number of reasons.

Speaking to Independent.ie, she said: “There’s a few different things that happen around a Bank Holiday. People might have more time out of their routine and something we notice is that loneliness and isolation are huge issues for people that are struggling.

“So, sometimes over a bank holiday weekend people aren’t having as much interaction as they do over the week so it can be a really difficult time for them.”

Similar to the report’s findings, Ms Wright said that alcohol can have a significant impact.

She said: “We also know that a huge amount of people who attempt suicide have been drinking. It’s likely that there is more drinking over a bank holiday weekend and that can really affect someone's mood, can lower their inhibitions and can make them more likely to act on suicidal thoughts or feelings they may have.

“It’s a huge factor. It can be quite difficult, culturally in Ireland to try to socialise without alcohol, so it’s maybe just for people to be really conscious of how that’s likely to make them feel.”

With the bank holiday weekend approaching, Ms Wright encouraged people to reach out to friends or family if they are struggling, or to contact the Samaritans by way of their helpline or text service.

If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article you can contact:

  • Pieta House 1800 247 247 or email mary@pieta.ie
  • Samaritans 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org
  • Aware 1800 80 48 48
  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634
  • Childline 1800 66 66 66

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