We’re changing the way we report self-harm. Here’s why.

We just had our busiest year, responding to more incidents than ever before.

Given the nature of our work, you might say this isn’t something to be proud of. We see it differently. Of course, we’d prefer it if injuries and illnesses simply didn’t happen at all. But this is the real world; emergencies happen and we want to be able to respond when they do.

There is a simple explanation for the increase. Through public donations, we have been able to expand our service over the past couple of years and are now available more hours of the day.

In total, this allowed us to respond to 1680 incidents throughout 2019. One of the most eye-catching figures, if you look down the list, is that we responded 87 times to incidents relating to self-harm. That’s around five per cent of all the incidents we attended. You would not have seen this statistic in last year’s report, because last year we included incidents of self-harm in the ‘other’ category.

We wanted to change this approach and that’s why we are now reporting self-harm in the same way as any other incident type. Mental health is an illness. It shouldn’t be hidden away. And nor should the data which shows how prevalent the problem is in our society.

In these cases, by the time we are involved, the patient’s mental struggle has escalated to the point that they have sustained a severe physical injury. It is not the time to address the root cause, even if we could. Sometimes, it is too late for our clinicians to make any meaningful difference.

As an organisation which deals with the most seriously ill and injured patients every day, we do what little we can to reduce the causes of the incidents we attend. We remind people to drive carefully, to take exercise and have a healthy diet, to wear a helmet when on their cycle or horse. But when it comes to mental health, there’s no simple solution.

As a society, we must be more supportive, we must listen to and care for those with troubles, and we must do better to understand the issues around mental health. It’s only a tiny change, but by reporting our self-harm statistics, we hope it will add to the growing discussion around the subject. With discussion comes understanding, and with understanding, we hope, comes meaningful change to the way mental health problems are identified and treated way before they become cases of major trauma.

Meanwhile, we will continue to be there for those who need us, regardless of how they arrived at their crisis. It’s not our job to ask why. It’s our job to give them another chance to build a brighter future.

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