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Self-harm adolescent referrals to Temple St doubled in four years

The research, presented at the recent College of Psychiatrists of Ireland Winter Meeting 2017, by Dr Sarah Sexton, the Lucena Clinic in Dublin, investigated emergency referrals to the paediatric liaison psychiatry department in Temple Street between 2011 and 2015.

Dr Sexton’s study found that girls aged 12 to 16 years were four times more likely than boys to engage in acts of self-harm, with 72 per cent of the reported self-harm presentations occurring out-of-hours.

Self-cutting was the number one form of self-harm recorded in younger adolescents, said Dr Sexton, with overdose

the most common form of self-harm reported in the older age group.

There were 906 patients involved in the study, with boys being younger in presentation and 88 per cent of the patients being referred on to the child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS).

One-third were referred on to CAMHS for thoughts of self-harm, with two-thirds referred for acts of self-harm. Given that the trend is significantly upwards for self-harm in adolescents nationally, there needs to be resources applied to meet the out-of-hours needs, Dr Sexton maintained.

There should be careful clinical audits done of cases, with a range of responses needed, she said, but the supports are not there to support all the focus around suicide prevention.

There is a need to teach secondary students resilience and coping skills and to apply a biopsychosocial model to the causes as well as the treatment, she added.

There is also an important question, said Dr Sexton, about whether all the attention on self-harming and suicide in the media is increasing the risks to adolescents.

“If the talk is not supported, or scaffolded, then it is dangerous,” she contended.

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