Focus on suicide might add to problem - expert

Wed, Oct 3, 2012, 01:00

THE INTENSE focus in society on suicide is conditioning some people into thinking of it as a viable option in their lives, a leading psychologist has suggested.

Dr Tony Bates said the debate about suicide might be making the problem worse rather than helping to prevent people from taking their own lives.

His comments came as Minister of State at the Department of Health Kathleen Lynch defended the continuing vacancy that exists for a head of the National Office for Suicide Prevention.

Two directors of the office, Geoff Day and Dr Stephanie O’Keeffe, have left in the past year.

Dr Bates also questioned whether the multiplicity of suicide prevention organisations and fundraising efforts wasn’t making suicide too much of a commonplace in people’s lives.

“Why are there more suicides in spite of the fact that we talk about it more openly and more incessantly than ever before?” Dr Bates asked. “Are we opening up new areas of human distress [without being] able to engage with it?”

The frequent discourse on the issue could be providing an “implicit unconscious permission” for attempting suicide, he suggested. “If we keep talking about it I wonder do we then make it an option for some people.”

He acknowledged that there was no perfect answer to the problem of rising suicide rates and that many organisations had to fundraise to survive. “There are people running races all over the place for suicide and it helps to raise more money, but I wonder what the net effect is.”

He said the organisation he had founded, Headstrong, had always focused on strengthening the mental health of young people rather than emphasising the issue of suicide.

After nine years writing for The Irish Times’ HealthPlus supplement, Dr Bates’ last column will appear next Tuesday.

Ms Lynch claimed the directorship of the National Office for Suicide Prevention was “never vacant” over the past year because there was either someone in place or a new appointee being sought.

Property developer Noel Smyth, who founded the suicide charity the 3Ts (Turn the Tide of Suicide) said the failure to fill the post was indicative of the Government’s attitude to suicide.

Fianna Fáil Senator Marc MacSharry described as “inexcusable” the Government’s failure to fill the post.

Funding for suicide prevention was “disgracefully low” at a time when the number of people taking their own lives across Ireland remained on the increase.

Ms Lynch defended the work of the office, pointing out that the budget had been doubled over the past two years and 3,500 people had been trained in suicide prevention techniques.

* Contacts: Samaritans (, at 1850-609090 (Republic) or 08457-909090 (UK/Northern Ireland); Pieta House (, centre for prevention of self-harm or suicide, at 01-6010000; Console (, a charity for the bereaved, 1800-201890; and Aware (, helping people with depression, at 1890-303302.