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Charity calls for urgent action to improve support for people who self-harm

This news post is almost 2 years old

Samaritans Scotland is calling for a new national strategy to improve understanding of self-harm and strengthen support for those affected

A charity is calling for renewed national leadership to improve responses to self-harm, after new research found 89% of Scots want to see further support.

Samaritans Scotland this week published a new report, Hidden Too Long: uncovering Self-Harm in Scotland, which brings together insights from people with lived experience, from stakeholders working across frontline services and from the general public, to develop a comprehensive picture of self-harm in Scotland.

The charity is calling for a new national strategy to improve understanding of self-harm and strengthen support for those affected, after research highlighted how deep and entrenched stigma around self-harm creates barriers to seeking help and support.

A survey of over 1,000 adults in Scotland found that while the vast majority agreed that self-harm is a serious issue and want to see further action to address it, two in five (40%) said they would not know how to support someone close to them if they were self-harming. The same survey found that nearly a third (31%) of adults would not feel comfortable talking to their partner or close family about self-harm, while 39% would not feel comfortable talking about it with friends. Almost a quarter (24%) would not feel comfortable talking about self-harm with their GP or another healthcare professional.

Rachel Cackett, executive director of Samaritans Scotland, explains why the charity believes there is an urgent need for renewed focus on self-harm. She said: “Although self-harm remains a taboo subject for many, and is notably absent from key national strategies, we know it is an issue which affects many, many individuals, families and communities all over Scotland.

"Recent data shows that one in six young people aged 16-24 in Scotland have self-harmed at some point in their lives, while the proportion of adults who reported ever self-harming in Scotland rose from 3% in 2008-09 to 7% in 20018-19. It’s too early to know how the coronavirus pandemic and related restrictions will affect mental health in the long term, but we are particularly concerned about the potential impact on already high-risk groups including young people, women, middle-age men, people with pre-existing mental health conditions and people experiencing deprivation.

"Our report - Hidden Too Long: Uncovering self-harm in Scotland - highlights how stigma discourages help-seeking and uncovers the barriers which prevent people from receiving the support they need. But it also points to areas of opportunity, with friends, family, and community services often acting as a hidden frontline of support.

"We want policy-makers to consider how they can work with individuals, families, communities and services to tackle stigma, strengthen support and address the underlying causes of self-harm. And we want to know that if someone takes the brave step of asking for help with their self-harm, the understanding, care and support they need will be there.”

Last year, Samaritans’ free, 24-hour helpline provided emotional support to someone in connection with self-harm every two minutes across the UK and Republic of Ireland. While many people turn to self-harm as a way of coping with difficult experiences and emotions, evidence shows that repeated self-harm can increase suicide risk.

Steven Fegan, from Ayrshire, began self-harming during a difficult period his life. After seeking support, Steven went onto become a Samaritans supporter and is now training to volunteer with the charity’s 24-hour helpline.  

He said: “I know from my own experience how difficult it can be to ask for help when you’re struggling. For me, things had built up over time – relationship breakdown, losing my mobility due to health issues, grieving for a friend who had taken his own life – and self-harm was a way of trying to cope with all these overwhelming feelings.

"The stigma around self-harm left me feeling ashamed and like I needed to hide what I was going through, even from the people closest to me. But when I eventually did reach out and ask for help, I was met by people who cared; they listened and supported me without judgement. And that was life-changing, even lifesaving.

"I hope that by talking openly and honestly about self-harm we can improve understanding, encourage more people to ask for help and ensure that the right support is there when they do.”

Samaritans has also produced a new film, which was informed by people who were part of the research and explores the subject of self-harm. The film and further resources and advice on supporting someone who is self-harming are available here. Hidden Too Long: Uncovering self-harm in Scotland is available here



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