Preventing suicide is more about community than charity
There are plenty of charities and support groups aimed at suicide prevention, but do they offer the right help?
Freeman says organisations such as Pieta House are an alternative to primary or secondary care with extended weekend opening hours and on-call therapists.
“Nine out of 10 people who come to Pieta House have no psychiatric history and their acute emotional distress is a reaction to a life event.”
Like McGuigan, Freeman says that family, friends, colleagues and neighbours are the most important component in suicide prevention. “More people are saved by their families and friends than organisations like ours. The problem is that most people don’t believe suicide will come to their door. They don’t believe something so tragic will happen because they have seen their loved one cope with distress before.”
For these reasons, Pieta House continues its awareness-raising campaigns – the most recent of which is the Mind Our Men campaign (mindourmen.ie) which aims to educate people about the signs of suicide – isolation, sleep disturbances, no interest in anything, seeing no future.
“The two main tipping points for men are the loss or lack of a significant relationship and uncertainty around work,” says Freeman.
Consultant psychiatrist Prof Kevin Malone, Department of Psychiatry, University College Dublin and at St Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin, says the main problem with suicide prevention in Ireland is that we dip in and out of it and “don’t have a durational engagement with the problem.”
He also believes that it’s time to pull all the “fragmented voices [within the charity sector] together in an integrated way”.
“There is a lot of duplication, work and energy put into keeping all these projects, associations and charities going. It would be more efficient to move to another level to make services more streamlined and sustainable,” he says.
According to Malone, 60 per cent of those who die by suicide have had a significant mental illness and the vast majority of people with suicidal thoughts are seen by the mental health services.
No uniformity of response
“The problem is it is still hit and miss as to whether you can get help, particularly in rural areas. We don’t have the uniformity of high-quality response that is available in the cancer centres of excellence.”
He commends the UK health strategy whose catch line is “no health without mental health” which has been incorporated into staff training, health information and services. And, the efforts there to follow up patients after discharge from hospital which has reduced suicide numbers.
“I think the best end game in Ireland would be statutory services working with the voluntary sector but you’ve got to have leadership from the very top of the political system for that to happen.”
The National Office for Suicide Prevention – nosp.ie – has a comprehensive list of organisations offering support to people who self harm and/or are in acute psychological distress.
suicideorsurvive.ie, tel; 1890 577577