Sobering message about suicide few in Ireland want to hear
The last factor mentioned is a trunk-waving woolly mammoth in the room. Most people don’t want to think about alcohol abuse as a risk factor for suicide, because alcohol abuse is our national pastime.
A 2011 study by Prof Brendan Walsh of University College Dublin and Dermot Walsh of the Mental Health Commission showed that alcohol consumption has a significant impact on suicide rates among males of all ages, and young women aged 15 to 24.
According to Conor Cullen of Alcohol Action Ireland: “The World Health Organisation has estimated that the risk of suicide when a person is currently abusing alcohol is eight times greater than if they were not abusing alcohol. However, a person doesn’t have to be a heavy drinker or even a regular drinker to be at risk – just one occasion of heavy drinking can reduce inhibitions enough to self-harm or act on suicidal thoughts.”
This week, research on suicide published by the Men’s Health Forum of Ireland, concluded that reduced drinking is one of the few unequivocal measures that bring down suicide rates.
Who, in Ireland, wants to hear that message? We would much prefer to talk about helping men to get in touch with their feelings, and better able to express them. Yet that theory falls down somewhat when you realise that rates of depression, anxiety and eating disorders are far higher in women, the alleged experts in the communication of emotions.
Poor impulse control
Rates of attempted suicide are also high in women. However, men tend to choose more violent methods that, sadly, succeed more often. There is also some evidence that the ability to control impulses matures later in men. It’s a vicious cycle – poor impulse control is more likely to lead to problem drinking, which in turn leads to more impulsive and dangerous behaviour.
The stalling of the Sale of Alcohol Bill, perhaps until the middle of this year, was one of the unfortunate consequences of Róisín Shortall’s resignation. We could do with her driving energy now.
Imagine if Healy-Rae had announced that he was turning his pub into a cafe, so as to offer an alcohol-free venue where people could safely socialise. The derisive laughter would have been deafening. Who would bother leaving their homes on a cold winter’s evening for a nice cuppa and a chat? And that inevitable response tells us more than we might want to know about our attitudes to alcohol.