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28 February, 2020

Travellers and young people among those most at risk of self-harming

St Patrick’s Mental Health Services (SPMHS) and Pieta highlight need to respond to high-risk groups experiencing self-harm at annual conference

Dublin, February 28, 2020: Self-harm in the Traveller community is among some of the key topics to be explored at SPMHS and Pieta’s annual Self-Harm Awareness Conference, taking place today in St Patrick’s University Hospital, Dublin 8.

Evidence shows that members of minority groups, such as the Traveller community, are more vulnerable to self-harming behaviours. In the last six months, Traveller representatives told the Oireachtas of a mental health crisis and unprecedented rates of self-harm within the community.

Now in its fifth year, the Self-Harm Awareness Conference is a joint collaboration between SPMHS and Pieta that aims to provide education providers, healthcare professionals and parents, family members and carers with practical skills and advice for managing presentations of self-harm.  

This year’s conference focuses on responding to high-risk groups such as adolescents and members of the Traveller community. Topics to be explored include the therapeutic use of metaphor when treating young people who self-harm, the assessment and management of patients presenting to emergency departments following self-harm, and actions needed to improve mental health within the Traveller community.

The conference also gives space to exploring the individual perspective of living with and treating self-harming behaviours, with award-winning author David Rudden discussing his personal experience of self-harm and journey to recovery on the day.

Speaking about the need for more research and understanding of self-harm in the Traveller community, Alan Kavanagh, Men’s Mental Health Outreach Worker with the Tallaght Travellers Community Development Project, said: “Barriers such as social exclusion, racism, discrimination, and poverty are known to contribute to trauma and mental health difficulties, which can underlie behaviours such as self-harm. While much research exists on the obstacles faced, and trauma transmitted, in various indigenous groups around the world, such analysis is non-existent from a Traveller perspective. It is vital that there is an understanding of what factors have caused trauma in the Traveller community in order to provide effective, culturally-specific treatment and reduce the high prevalence of behaviours such as self-harm.”

Discussing self-harm in high-risk groups, Dr Caroline Clements, Project Manager of the Manchester Self-Harm Project, noted: “The National Strategy for Preventing Suicide in England emphasises that suicide risk is high in particular groups such as middle-aged men, people in the care of mental health services, people in contact with the criminal justice system, as well as people with a history of self-harm. It is important to invest in research into self-harm so that we can understand why some groups, such as young women and people in midlife, are presenting to hospital for self-harm more often and how we can provide appropriate responses, now and into the future.”

Relevant statistics

  • Studies have shown that self-harming behaviours in Ireland have risen significantly since records began in 2002; with a total of 12,588 presentations of self-harm in Ireland in 2018, compared to 10,537 presentations in 2002. Of these presentations, young people are a particularly at-risk group with some 29% increase in 10 to 24-year-olds presenting with self-harm since from 2007 to 2018 (National Suicide Research Foundation)
  • 9% of Travellers aged 35-54 years have a psychological or emotional disability, compared to 3% of their non-Traveller counterparts (Oireachtas Committee Report, 2020)