Self-harm is growing more and more common in Ireland.
If you know someone who is going through it or you are going through it yourself, it can be a very scary time, but knowing the necessary information can be a huge help.
We spoke to Pieta House Clinical Manager Marguerite Kiely, who has a wealth of experience in this area to get all the info you need to know.
What are the signs to look out for?
We don’t go looking for signs of self-harm. Our experience with young people is that it is very private. It’s usually in areas that the public may not see. It might be on the inside of the thighs, it might be on the stomach, it might be on the arms. It’s very much something that you don’t see on display, 99% of the time it’s a very private and very secretive form of coping for young people.
Is self-harming more common among young girls?
Yes, we would have a higher percentage of girls coming in with self-harm problems than boys. It generally starts around second-year and goes up to about Leaving Cert, but we have seen an increase in younger age groups coming into us. Children as young as 7 years of age come in with self-harm but generally, in that age group, it’s something in their environment.
So, this is something that affects all age groups?
We see people from 7 years of age up to 70. In general, society views self-harm as something associated with young adolescents but we would see adults also coming to our service who began using self-harm as a coping strategy when they were younger. They might be in their 50’s and 60’s and are still using it to manage so that needs to change. The perception is that most self-harmers are young, and the majority are, but we also see a lot of adult clients present themselves with self-harm.
Would you attribute self-harm to anxiety?
It might be low self-esteem, it might be an experience of bullying. Social media has had a very big impact on young people. It might be family areas or sexual identity issues. We have seen an increase in young people with transgender difficulties coming into us, 12 so far this year.
Our research shows that a high percentage of the young people coming to us will be extremely sensitive. They are very creative, very artistic but very emotional. Their heads are very busy. They would be very over caring to their peers and expect a lot back. Then when they get a rejection from a group or boyfriend or girlfriend that can have a big impact on them.
What is the usual treatment for self-harm?
The most important thing that we offer here in Pieta House, which is really important particularly for young people, is the consistency of seeing someone on a regular basis. We see young people a minimum of twice a week for the first three weeks depending on the risk level.
We are also very mindful in Pieta House that the therapy that we offer is in an environment that is not clinical. It’s very warm and it’s very open. We are very mindful of keeping the energy up because very often people think if someone is coming in for a service to do with suicide and self-harm it’s all doom and gloom. The minute they come through the door it’s very compassionate and it’s very welcoming.
Do people usually find it hard to open up about self-harm?
Of course, it is a struggle. The two emotions that are very often associated with self-harm are a sense of shame and a sense of guilt. It’s really important that they feel comfortable and know that they are not the only ones. It is not about telling them where they should be or what they should be doing it’s about giving them a voice in their care.
The most important thing we feedback to young people is that at 14 or 15 years of age they are at a beautiful age to learn this stuff because it will stand to them for the rest of their lives. It’s like going on a little psychology course, we’re teaching you stuff.
What we want is that when they leave Pieta House they will have experienced something that will stand to them for the rest of their lives.
Do you think that there are a lot of misconceptions about self-harm?
Yes, but it is based on fear and lack of information. It is a natural reaction to be panicky and to be concerned, that’s why as part of our service we offer support sessions. Parents are entitled to come in but for our adult clients, they nominate a person who they want to come in and support them if they are struggling.
What should you do if you know someone who self-harms?
First of all, you have to control it, keep it very contained because what we don’t want is a drama. You have to understand it is a coping strategy. It helps that person manage stress.
It’s about keeping things contained, showing buckets and buckets of passion and keep the communication open. If they are concerned at all pick up the phone and any of the team in Pieta House will be happy to talk with them. There is a lot of information on the website but if someone is really upset just pick up the phone and talk to a member of staff.
Do you think there is a bad media representation around self-harm?
I don’t think there is a bad media representation about it but I just think there is a lack of understanding. It’s very important that the adults have knowledge and awareness before they make assumptions. If an adult understands something a child can feel protected. When we have awareness we are able to manage it better and view it differently.
Everyone in society self-harms. If you smoke too much, if you don’t eat enough, if you don’t get enough exercise, if you drink too much on a Friday night. Adults engage in self-harm but society accepts that as an acceptable form of self-harm. However, when there is injury and somebody is using self-harm as a coping strategy, we have a totally different reaction to it.
What do you think is the most important thing for someone going through this situation?
I think it’s important for people to know that it will pass when you get that early intervention. We can all experience being in the canoe with no paddle. The first thing I want people to know when they’re seeking support is that you are entitled to it, you have a right to be supported. Two It will pass you’re in the canoe and have the paddle, you just need to come in for it.
It can be very isolating when you don’t know information. Just come in and get that information. It will stand to you for the rest of your life because life will bring you difficulties but when you build resilience and resources early it will stand to you.
LYONS Tea has been at the centre of conversations in Irish households for generations. Many a problem has been shared over a cup of their tea. That’s why LYONS is delighted to support Pieta House to raise awareness for the services they provide and to get the nation talking about mental health issues. Pieta House offers free help and support for people experiencing suicidal ideation, suicidal bereavement or engaging in self-harm.