A strategy to stop suicide

Fri, May 24, 2013, 11:47

More people die by suicide every year than are killed in road traffic incidents. But the quality of services provided to help vulnerable people are dreadfully inadequate and successive governments have failed to prioritise medical and social care. What is particularly disturbing is the high number of young men who take their own lives and the role that mental health issues, along with alcohol and drug abuse, play in those cases.

Suicide is any family’s worst nightmare. For those left behind, it produces profound feelings of loss, grief and guilt. It impacts not only on the families directly affected, but also on the wider community. A phenomenon of “clustering” may take place, whereby one death can precipitate copycat actions by friends or other family members. A study published by Professor Kevin Malone of UCD this week found linkages in 14 per cent of cases and he suggested an early-warning system to address this particular issue.

Some startling figures emerged from the survey. Half of those who took their own lives abused alcohol in the 12 months before their deaths; one-quarter had been bereaved by the death of a friend and four out of five suicides were male. Families were critical of the quality of help provided and they rated the health services as “negative” or “very negative”.

Mental health budgets were cut in recent decades. And while various plans and health initiatives have since appeared, necessary funding and staffing were not provided. It can take up to three months to see a consultant. Apart from professional medical help, there is also a need for drop-in centres where young people can gather and share their fears and concerns with non-judgmental listeners. Depression, stress and anxiety are unwelcome, if regular, companions in young lives. It is only when they lead to isolation and alcohol abuse that they enter a destructive spiral. That is why it is so important for friends and neighbours to reach out and offer help and understanding to those in distress.

Suicide was decriminalised in this State 20 years ago. But the social stigma remains and people are often reluctant to talk openly about the situation. One of the consequences has been a lack of political pressure and a failure to invest in necessary health services and, by extension, appropriate supports for grieving families and friends. That must change. Overall, Ireland has a relatively low level of suicide. But young males between the ages of 15 and 24 years are particularly vulnerable. They are calling out for help, as is clear from the report that one-third of suicides had previously engaged in self-harm. More effective co-operation between community-based groups and mainstream health providers is required. So is the availability of adult, understanding ears and guaranteed anonymity.

* This article was amended on Friday, May 24th, 2013 to correct a factual error

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