SOS texts to HSE about self-harm are soaring


The HSE’s text message-based mental health service 50808 had large rises in self-harm cases during the pandemic.

or many of those who got in touch with the service, which only launched in June 2020, Covid-19 had caused them to “re-engage with self-harming behaviours”.

“Self-harm tends to represent 5pc to 7pc of our conversations with texters each month,” explains Ian Power, the chief executive of text service 50808.

Figures reveal 238 people asked for help in October compared to 162 in September, a rise of 47pc.

There was a large increase in December (up 32pc on November), with a smaller rise in January, up 17pc on the month before to 315 self-harm discussions.

Nicole Forster, director of 50808, says the “uncertainty of the pandemic” means some people are “returning to self-harm because of feeling overwhelmed”.

Some who have texted the service have complained of being unable to access alternative coping methods they used when these emotions built up before Covid-19. These include engaging their support network, meeting up with friends, seeing family, going to the gym and focusing on plans for the future.

“Texters have shared that some self-harming behaviours can be done privately and can offer a release in moments that feel unbearable.

“We often have conversations with people who’ve self-harmed in their room while other family members may be downstairs watching television or preparing dinner.”

She says that “given the pressure some people are under and the hopelessness of the situation”, it is “not surprising” that some people are turning to self-harm as a way to cope.

“These texters talk to us about being confused about why they’ve started to self-harm and also share being fearful about becoming dependent on self-harm to get through tough days and moments,” says Ms Forster.

The National Self-Harm Registry Ireland, operated by the National Suicide Research Foundation, collects data on self-harm presentations to hospital emergency departments in Ireland.

The report, seen by the Sunday Independent, states Covid-19 has led to an increase in a wide range of risk factors associated with self-harm and suicide.

These include the sudden loss of loved ones, depression, anxiety, substance misuse, fear of infection, job loss and economic uncertainty, social isolation, and loneliness, restrictions on healthy activities, and access to health services including mental health services.

In February 2020, 694 self-harm presentations were made to 19 hospitals.

Anyone struggling with self-harm or with their mental health generally can text the word HELLO to 50808 for free, anonymous support 24/7. For more information visit

Sunday Independent

Source: Irish News