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Self-harm figures ‘probably the tip of iceberg’

The 57,000 episodes of self-harm reported in mental health services each year account for 25% of the total number of incidents, the RCNi Mental Health Practice conference heard.

Figures show more than 57,000 incidents of self-harm each year by people in the care of mental health services, but this number is probably the tip of the iceberg, the RCNi Mental Health Practice conference heard.

According to NHS reporting figures, there are 57,607 episodes of self-harm per year out of a total 230,842 incidents accounting for 25% of reported incidents in mental health services.

Department of Health mental health, learning disability and dementia care professional officer Ben Thomas said more than two million people have contact with mental health services each year. There are 35,000 mental health nurses working in the NHS and around 12,000 in the independent sector, he said.

More demanding

From a mental health point of view, you

Figures show more than 57,000 incidents of self-harm each year by people in the care of mental health services, but this number is probably ‘the tip of the iceberg’, the RCNi Mental Health Practice conference heard.


Mental health nursing ‘is getting more and more demanding’, said the Department of Health’s Ben Thomas. Picture: Neil O’Connor

According to NHS reporting figures, there are 57,607 episodes of self-harm per year out of a total 230,842 incidents – accounting for 25% of reported incidents in mental health services.

Department of Health mental health, learning disability and dementia care professional officer Ben Thomas said more than two million people have contact with mental health services each year. There are 35,000 mental health nurses working in the NHS and around 12,000 in the independent sector, he said.

More demanding

‘From a mental health point of view, you will always be in a job. The problem is that job is getting more and more demanding,’ Professor Thomas told the conference on 10 May.

‘There are over 57,000 episodes per year of self-harm and I think that’s probably just the tip of the iceberg.’

He added that for people who repeatedly self-harm, being in a hospital ward was a real problem because they feel 'if I cannot self-harm then physically and emotionally I feel ten times worse'.

Mr Thomas said the need to self-harm had to be balanced with the requirement that nurses observe a patient to prevent possible suicide.

Under observation

University of Manchester forensic psychiatry professor Jenny Shaw has reviewed suicide rates among patients under observation.

She told the conference in Manchester that 18 suicides per year occur in inpatient observation.

More than 90% of these involve intermittent observation by healthcare staff and the remainder are one-to-one observations, Professor Shaw said, and half of deaths occurred when patients were under the care of inexperienced or bank staff.

She said staff felt they needed to be able to do more than simply observe these patients.

‘When you talk to staff they often can’t see the point of just observing someone. It didn’t seem to be helpful and it needed to be more meaningful,’ she said.


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