Self-harm rates among Irish young people ‘strikingly’ high

Girls aged 15-19 have highest numbers presenting at hospital with self-harm injuries

Self-harm is regarded as an indicator of serious mental and emotional distress, and repeated episodes may indicate suicidality. Photograph: iStock

Self-harm is regarded as an indicator of serious mental and emotional distress, and repeated episodes may indicate suicidality. Photograph: iStock

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Girls aged 15-19 were those most likely to present at hospital with self-harm injuries last year, with the rate among under 15-year-old girls three times the rate for boys, new figures show.

Girls aged 13 were four times as likely as their male peers to self-harm, and the “age of onset of self-harm is decreasing”, warns the HSE study.

The annual report from the National Registry of Self-Harm, published on Thursday, shows there were 12,465 presentations at hospitals due to self-harm in 2019, involving 9,705 individuals – a national rate of 206 per 100,000 people.

In contrast with suicide, where men are up to four times more at risk, women are 21 per cent more likely to self-harm.

According to the report, 226 women and girls per 100,000 presented at emergency departments with self-inflicted injuries last year, compared with 187 per 100,000 men and boys.

“Consistent with previous years, the peak rate for women was in the 15-19 years age group, at 726 per 100,000, whereas the peak rate among men was in 20-24-year-olds at 485 per 100,000.

“These rates imply that one in every 138 women in the age group 15-19 years, and one in every 206 men in the age group 20-24 years, presented to hospital in 2019 as a consequence of self-harm.”

Samaritans’ busiest time of day is from 6pm until midnight, with its busiest hour from 8pm. Photograph: iStock
The report describes as “crucial” the availability of mental health programmes and appropriate referral and treatment options “to address the needs of young people in the key transition stages between childhood and adolescence into adulthood ..." File photograph: iStock

Self-harm is regarded as an indicator of serious mental and emotional distress, and repeated episodes may indicate suicidality.

The report describes as “striking” the high self-harm rates among young people, and girls especially. “The female rate for 13-year-olds was four times that of males (343 versus 81 per 100,000). The increases in the female rate in early teenage years were particularly striking, whereby the rate increased threefold between the ages of 12 and 13 years (from 117 to 343 per 100,000).”

Older groups

However, rates among men are higher than women in older age groups: ages 25-29 (442 compared with 368 per 100,000); and 30-34 (306 compared with 263 per 100,000).

The most common form of self-harm last year was drug overdose, accounting for 62 per cent of hospital cases, followed by self-cutting (29 per cent).

Limerick and Cork cities had the highest incidence among men and women last year, consistent with previous years. Men had a rate of 370 per 100,000 in Limerick city, and women 468 per 100,000. In Cork city the rates for men and women were 302 and 307 per 100,000, respectively.

The report describes as “crucial” the availability of mental health programmes and appropriate referral and treatment options “to address the needs of young people in the key transition stages between childhood and adolescence into adulthood ... Increases in self-harm among children aged 10-14 years indicate that the age of onset of self-harm is decreasing.”

School-based mental health programmes have been found to be effective in preventing suicide attempts in young adolescents, it says. Programmes in primary and post-primary settings are required, and these should focus on preventing suicidal behaviour as well as building resilience.

If you are affected by any issue in this article, please contact Pieta House on 1800-247247 or the Samaritans on 116123 (free) or by emailing jo@samaritans.ie