Support available for people who self-harm and those close to them

Self-Harm Awareness Day

The Public Health Agency (PHA) is using Self-Harm Awareness Day to encourage people who are affected by self-harm, including families and carers, to seek support.

Dr Denise O’Hagan, Public Health Consultant with the PHA, said: “People self-harm for various reasons and are usually experiencing severe emotional distress. Self-harm is when a person harms themselves through injury or poisoning and it can take many different forms. It may be something which is kept hidden from others. For some people, self-harm is a way of coping with and communicating their distress, but for others it can be associated with a wish to end their lives and therefore it should always be taken seriously. 

“Self-Harm Awareness Day is an important way to build empathy and reduce stigma around speaking about self-harm, encouraging people to reach out for support. Awareness leads to more understanding, reducing judgement and fear, and hopefully making people who may be suffering in silence feel less alone.

“If you need help to prevent or reduce self-harming, speak to your GP who will assess your needs and make a referral to the most appropriate service for you. One option which may be suitable for people who do not have more serious mental health problems is a referral to the Self-Harm Intervention Programme (SHIP) – available across Northern Ireland.

“The SHIP programme is designed to help individuals develop the skills to cope with difficulties in their lives and prevent further acts of self-harm. The service is open to young people aged over 11 years old and adults, and offers short-term counselling in relation to self-harm. SHIP can also direct individuals to services to support them with other problems they may be experiencing.”

Dr O’Hagan added: “We want to highlight in particular the support available to carers and family members who may be struggling to cope when a loved one is self-harming. If family or friends become aware that someone is harming themselves, they should encourage the person to seek help.

“Self-harm can have a huge impact on other family members whose own mental health may begin to suffer without support. Self-harming may occur in any family situation and there should be no fear or stigma around seeking help with this issue.

“SHIP can provide a short period of education and support to carers to help them better understand and cope with this issue and ensure they know how to obtain help in a crisis situation. Feedback from family members who have taken up this support indicates that they feel family relationships are much improved and that they are much better able to connect with and support their loved one. Carers can attend the service even if the person who self-harms does not want to attend counselling for themselves. Families or carers who would like to arrange an appointment should contact SHIP in the area in which they live.”

Telephone lines are open Monday – Friday 9am – 4pm, excluding public holidays.

The phone lines are for families and carers only. People who self-harm must be referred by a health professional.

Contact numbers for support for families and carers in each Trust area are as follows:

Belfast Trust area – 028 90200396

Northern and Western Trust areas – 028 71266999    

South Eastern and Southern Trust areas – 028 87723321

The SHIP service is funded by the PHA and is delivered by local community and voluntary sector organizations across Northern Ireland. SHIP receives over 3,000 referrals of people who self-harm each year from the HSC Trusts and most people take up the support offered to them.

If you are having thoughts of self-harm or suicide but haven’t harmed yourself, you should contact a GP urgently or call the confidential Lifeline helpline on 0808 808 8000. If you are at immediate risk of serious self-harm or suicide or have done something to yourself that may cause you serious harm, you should attend an Emergency Department or call 999.

The PHA has also produced helpful booklets to support families and carers and these are available on the PHA website:

‘Improving the lives of people who self-harm’:

‘Caring for someone who has self-harmed or had suicidal thoughts’: