THE number of people presenting with suicidal thoughts to the emergency department at Cork University Hospital (CUH) increased by 50% in the past two years, but there were no increases either in the number of people presenting following self-harm or in the number of suicides in the region.
Speaking to The Echo, Sinead O’Brien, clinical director for mental health services in Cork, said the figures, which were provided by Cork Kerry Mental Health Services, indicate that people are accessing care at an earlier stage.
“In the case of Cork, we have seen a significant increase in numbers presenting with suicidal ideation,” said Dr O’Brien.
“However, there has not been an increase in people presenting with deliberate self-harm and no significant change in suicide numbers,” she said.
“This suggests people are accessing care and accessing care at an earlier point, which is most welcome.
“The national clinical programme for self-harm has been developed in Cork over many years and this service is clearly providing a service for those presenting to the emergency departments with follow-up in the community thereafter.
“We are funded for two additional clinical nurse specialists, one in CUH and one in MUH [Mercy University Hospital], which will further enhance the service.”
Dr O’Brien also highlighted the importance of the home-based crisis team.
These teams are available for home visits in acute situations.
“In Cork, we have four home-based crisis teams where GPs or other mental health teams can request a prompt appointment in the community,” she said.
“The national clinical programme for self-harm is further expanding to enhance services in the community so that people can have their needs met in a timely fashion in the community.
“It is important that services are available in a timely fashion in a location that best suits the individual,” she said.
“GPs can contact their local home-based crisis team and request a prompt appointment.”
Dr O’Brien said the increase in the number of people with suicidal ideation attending emergency departments may also be a result of the pandemic.
“This increase in referrals may reflect additional stress due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“This may be related directly to morbidity and mortality related to Covid-19, changes to pathways accessing care, the impact of Covid-19 restrictions such as physical distancing and economic burden,” said Dr O’Brien.
“Evidence shows that individuals with fewer social and economic resources are particularly vulnerable to psychiatric morbidity during the Covid-19 pandemic.”