Alcohol abuse in final year a factor in 78 per cent of suicide deaths, Cork study reveals
NEARLY FOUR out of five people who died through suicide in a 2½-year period in Cork had been abusing alcohol in the year prior to their death, a major new report on suicide has found.
The first report of the Suicide Support and Information System (SSIS) shows that 78.1 per cent of people who took their own lives were abusing alcohol in the year prior to death and more than half were abusing alcohol and/or drugs.
The report includes data on 190 consecutive cases of suicide in Cork city and county between September 2008 and March 2011.
The high number of suicide deaths involving alcohol abuse has prompted the director of research with the National Suicide Research Foundation, Ella Arensman, to call for a warning to be placed on all alcoholic products stating that “excessive use of alcohol can cause mental health problems”.
Dr Arensman said all of the stakeholders involved needed to take this finding very seriously and engage on the issue.
In terms of risk factors, the SSIS report highlighted a clear and higher than expected link between the recession and suicide – more than 38 per cent of those who died by suicide were unemployed and 32.8 per cent had been working in the construction sector.
Other frequently reported occupations included agriculture, students, the medical profession, business and commerce, the education sector, and taxi drivers. However, Dr Arensman pointed out that there were a multitude of other risk factors involved in these deaths.
“More than two-thirds had already experienced the loss of a family member or friend through suicide, which is also much higher than expected,” she said. “This highlights how important it is that bereavement support counsellors be alert to other family members who may be at risk following a death through suicide.
“In the year prior to death, over 80 per cent of people studied had been in contact with their GP and the majority had contacted their GP four times or more during the year before their death.
“This finding underlines the need for more awareness among GPs to pick up the subtle signs of suicidality. The National Office for Suicide Prevention is in the process of implementing national training for GPs in conjunction with the Irish College of General Practitioners, which will be most welcome.”
A history of self-harm was another major risk factor in death by suicide, according to the report, with 45 per cent of people having self-harmed in the past.
Dr Arensman noted that researchers were also struck by the fact that two-thirds of families reported their deceased family members had received no apparent benefit from the mental health outpatient services they attended, highlighting a need for a serious review of these services.
The SSIS report included a cluster of 19 suicides involving males aged 14-36 between September 2008 and December 2010 in a small area of Co Cork.
This revealed a risk profile characterised by severe alcohol and drug abuse, often starting in early adolescence; exposure to and grief related to the loss of a friend by suicide; non-communication of suicidal intent; over-attachment to peers; and glorification of suicide.