"Need Improvement In Dealing With Self-Harm at St George's Hospital Tooting"

About: St George's Healthcare NHS Trust

(as a service user),

It was National Self-Injury Awareness Day on 1 March, and I wanted to raise awareness and reflect on my own experiences. It was a very painful post to write, hence why it has taken me a while.

Self-harm is something I have done intermittently. I feel I have consistently encountered negative attitudes from staff. In my view, I am made to feel like an attention-seeker and waste of time. I attended A&E (only because a GP advised me to do so) following self-harm. This did not require physical treatment, but I was very suicidal. I ended up waiting for hours, only to be grilled by a Psychiatric Liaison Nurse who in my view thought they were a therapist. They made me talk about my deepest and most unpleasant feelings and life history, which just brought up even more painful feelings and left me feeling worse. I didn't need to talk - and especially not to someone I didn't know, it wasn't as if I had built a therapeutic relationship with this person. I felt at real risk of attempting suicide and this frightened me. This nurse told me that I must find the suicidal thoughts a release and comfort as I could always escape if things got too bad. Actually I found the thoughts intrusive, unwanted and frightening.

I didn't feel I could say any of this. I was all too aware of the negative assumptions that are made about service users who self-harm, and didn't want to be seen as even more difficult or not co-operating.

I was at no time asked what I needed or wanted - which was to be kept safe. I didn't want to talk when I was already massively in pain. They even asked me after the session if I felt better - I could hardly have said no, even though that would have been the honest answer, I would just have been seen as rude and unengaged!

I actually ended up in hospital a few weeks later due to a suicide attempt.

I felt that I wasn't taken seriously, that I was seen as one of those service users who just talk and don't act on the suicidal thoughts. Actually my self-harm was escalating and this was a sign that I was suicidal.

It was after midnight by the time I was allowed to leave, and I was left to go home alone.

I self-harmed more severely since, but I have never sought medical help for it although on at least two of the occasions I probably should have had stitches or something. The above experience, as well as the Home Treatment Team charmingly in my view sneering that I had only superficially cut my wrists when I was being discharged from hospital, have really discouraged me from doing so. The last thing I wanted to face was more stigmatising and degrading treatment. I therefore treated the wounds myself. This has left me with quite severe physical scars, to add to the mental ones.

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Response from Kerri Jones, Co-founder & Manager, No Secrets

Hi there,

Unfortunately I cannot comment on your experience with St Georges Healthcare NHS Trust, as I am in no way connected to this trust (or any NHS trust).

My colleagues at No Secrets, and I, work alongside individuals who have or still do self-injure. Though we are not doing this in a professional capacity - the majority of our volunteers also have or still do self-harm, myself included.

Part of our work also involves providing self-injury specific training to professionals who may come into contact with people who self harm. In the past 3 years we have found our own attitudes towards healthcare workers has slightly shifted, as we have been able to see the difficulties and barriers that they can face when treating individuals.

I am in full agreement that self-harm is something that is still very much misunderstood by many people. In the majority of cases, people's lack of understanding and/or knowledge of the subject can make it difficult for them to be as supportive and helpful as they could be. From discussing self-harm in depth with professionals in our training sessions, we find that some people are afraid of talking about it because they don't know much about it. There seems to be a fear of the unknown, and a fear that by talking about self harm to the individual presenting, it will trigger further episodes of self harm. I know for myself and the majority of others I work with do not find discussing self harm to be a trigger.

The key here, is that people need educating. There is not enough out there for healthcare workers around self-injury.

It's such a shame you don't feel you can access medical help at the times when you need it. Of course, as you've said, untreated wounds will often leave larger scars, which in the longer term doesn't help the situation.

I do hope you are as well as you can be at the moment. Please look after yourself, and if you'd like to talk to somebody who has been in the same position as yourself do not hesitate to email us: admin@no-secrets.org.uk

And don't forget, the Samaritans are a 24/7 service who will listen to you and allow you to explore your feelings in a safe a supportive way. Their website, for more info, is http://www.samaritans.org/

Take good care of yourself.


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