Self harm and suicide to be addressed at conference

THE huge problem of self-harm and suicide will be addressed by a special conference in Londonderry in the coming weeks.

Last year the Sentinel reported how “staggering” levels of self-harm and attempted suicide resulted in Londonderry recording the highest number of emergency admissions to hospital outside Belfast.

Conor McCafferty, a therapist and mentoring co-ordinator with ZEST, a local organisation dedicated to supporting people in Londonderry suffering from emotional pain and hurt, said instances of attempted suicide and self-harm were at a “staggering level” in the city.

He said the actual rate of individuals self-harming or attempting to take their own life is probably closer to 10 times the 534 people reported by the Western Health and Social Care Trust (WHSCT) in 2007-8 – the latest figures available.

Now, in order to help address the problem, Derry City Council, the Western Health and Social Care Trust (WHSCT), Co-operation and Working Together (CAWT) and the Public Health Agency (PHA) have joined forces for “Working together to address self harm and suicide” due to be held in the Waterfoot Hotel on January 26 2010.

A report by the Council’s Chief Environmental Health Officer stated: “The conference will be relevant to colleagues who have an interest in the area of self harm and suicide or those who work with clients affected by self harming behaviour or suicide.”

The twin aims of the summit are to increase awareness, share knowledge and best practice around self harm and suicide, and to promote local and regional projects, initiatives and support services.

The suicide convention is particulary timely given that interim findings of a new Registry of Deliberate Self Harm published in late 2008 by Health Minister Michael McGimpsey identified Londonderry as one of the worst affected areas, not just in Northern Ireland, but on the island as a whole.

Compared with the Republic of Ireland, incidence rates in the Western Health and Social Services Board are double at 471 per 100,000 of population (Republic of Ireland rates are 236 per 100,000 of population).

Equally alcohol, although rare as a main form of self harm, featured as a major factor and was involved in 59 per cent of all episodes (which is higher than the Republic of Ireland figure of alcohol involvement in 41 per cent of episodes).