Over 60,000 people who self-injured in Ireland last year did not seek medical attention, a conference in Dublin was told today.

Martin Rogan, assistant national director of mental health at the HSE, said people who self-harm were sometimes labelled as attention seekers, but this was not the case.

Though 12,000 people presented at accident and emergency with self-inflicted injuries, a further 60,000 had not sought attention, so they were not “attention seekers” he said.

The conference, Safe with Self Injury, organised by Dr Kay Inckle, of Trinity College’s School of Social Work and Social Policy, aimed to promote awareness and improve understanding and responses to self-injury among service providers, policy makers and the wider public.

Dr Inkle said there was currently no policy or best-practice protocol for practitioners dealing with self-injury in Ireland.

She said we needed to rethink our whole idea about self injury and get away from the idea that it was “all about the injury and has to be stopped”.

“We need to recognise it is about a person in distress and that should be our concern,” she said.

Practitioners needed to be asking why someone was so distressed and why someone’s life was so difficult that hurting his or her body made him or her feel better.

“We need to really focus on that rather than an issue about the behaviour or injury. If someone’s life gets better then presumably they are not going to feel the need to hurt themselves so much,” she said.