One-in-10 teens may self-harm to escape turmoil
One-in-10 teenagers may have attempted self-harm because of emotional turmoil, a psychiatrist warned yesterday.
Some self-harm to numb their feelings or relieve tension but others will have suicidal intent, said Dr Fiona McNicholas, a psychiatrist at Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin.
She was speaking at a conference to mark World Suicide Prevention Day.
"One-in-five will contemplate deliberate self-harm and one-in-10 may engage in deliberate self-harm," Dr McNicholas said at the conference organised by Console, the organisation set up by families who have lost a loved one through suicide.
"At least if we see them in a hospital or clinic we can intervene but there is a huge number of children who are not coming to our services.
"It is different for each child. If they come to your attention and feel life is not worth living there could be a multitude of problems.
"Some have mental illness and depression is the most common. They don't see any future and have very low self-esteem.
"For others the problem is substance misuse or it may be some trivial event such as a fight with their friends or parents which triggers impulsive behaviour.
"It is important to be open to the idea that there are many reasons which might trigger self-harm and behind that there are underlying risk factors such as family history of mental illness, self-harm or completed suicide," she added.
The problems can peak around late adolescence and that is when the mental health services can be most patchy as they fall between adult and child services.
Of those young people who deliberately self-harm around one-in-10 will repeat it. And of these, one-in-10 will die by suicide, said Dr McNicholas.
One of the problems with hospitals around the country is that they may not have psychiatric cover which means children who present after self-harm are at risk of not being kept in overnight to be assessed.
Health Minister Mary Harney spoke of losing a close friend to suicide during her student days at the conference.
"I first came in contact with the consequences of suicide when I was studying in Trinity. A very good friend of mine, a girl who seemed to have everything, took her life.
"She was the envy of all of us in Trinity -- she was beautiful, an honours student. . . she took her own life."
She added: "You never really know what's going on in someone's life. . . to tackle suicide in Ireland we need to begin with making people more aware of the services available in mental health. There are fantastic services available but a lot of (people) don't know where to go."
The Console helpline can be reached at 1800 201 890.