Urgent need for up-to-date suicide register to help prevent further deaths
Opinion: Figures indicate increase in suicide among 45- to 54-year-olds
‘We would be concerned at a reported 25.58 per cent rise in suicides in the 45-54 age group, from 86 people in 2012 to 108 in 2013. This would mirror a rise in calls to our helpline from people in this age category, with men, in particular, now showing a willingness to talk about their mental health issues.’ Photograph: Getty Images
Now is the time for openness, honesty and speed when it comes to the reporting of suicide figures in Ireland.
The level of suicide prevention could be vastly improved if the State resolved to move from the present reporting of provisional annual figures, six months in arrears, to an up-to-date register of suicides. Such a register would give our organisation, and others, the opportunity to direct resources to places that they are needed the most, and in time to make a real difference.
Although we are a nationwide organisation, Console has to keep its ear to the ground in an effort to detect suicide patterns and prevent suicide contagion, in which one suicide follows another in a so-called copycat manner, very often within a school system or a community. In too many cases, unfortunately, we only come to know of one suicide after a second one has occurred and people in the locality notify us. This is the sad reality.
We know we can do so much, but we need information to be able to prevent the loss of life and, at the moment, we are dependent on provisional figures for the previous year, issued six months into the present year.
Currently, the HSE National Office of Suicide Prevention is preparing its annual report, which will contain an overview of the issue of suicide in Ireland. Unfortunately, it can only comment with certainty on the new official figures from 2011 – after that, it is dependent on the provisional data from the Central Statistics Office.
For a country with the fourth highest rate of suicide in Europe among the 15-24 age group, this is simply not good enough.
The provisional CSO figures for 2013, which have just been issued, show 475 people died by suicide last year, a 6.3 per cent drop on the equivalent numbers for 2012.
Provisional figuresWe are always at pains to point out the provisional nature of these statistics because the official confirmed statistics of mortality through suicide will not be available to us for almost another three years – and they are always higher than the provisional figures.
This hampers our work, especially when an examination shows how those counties and cities listed as suicide “blackspots” change every year.
For example, the regional figures in the CSO statistics for 2013 seem alarming, with several counties recording rates of suicide well above the national average of 10.3 per 100,000 population.
These include Cavan, with 20.4 deaths by suicide per 100,000, Carlow (20.0), Kerry (19.4) and Roscommon (18.6).
The previous year (2012) the spotlight was on Limerick with 26.6 deaths by suicide per 100,000, Cork city (25.6), Wexford (21.2) and Mayo (19.9).
This starkly illustrates the shifting sands in the fight against suicide, and the need for up-to-date information.
The numbers of deaths by suicide in the 15-24 category were 57 in 2013, showing a drop of almost 23 per cent against the 2012 figure of 74.
This continues a two-year trend that now shows a drop of 40 per cent against the 2011 figure of 95 deaths – we hope that official figures will confirm this when they become available. However, while the apparent drop in deaths by suicide in this category is welcome, Ireland still has the fourth highest rate of suicide in the European Union for this demographic, according to figures from the World Health Organisation, and this clearly needs more attention.
We would be concerned at a reported 25.58 per cent rise in suicides in the 45-54 age group, from 86 people in 2012 to 108 in 2013. This would mirror a rise in calls to our helpline from people in this age category, with men, in particular, now showing a willingness to talk about their mental health issues.
We operate a rural stress helpline on behalf of the HSE and financial woes and the fodder shortage combined to cause a large increase in calls in the first half of 2013 – mainly from men in that demographic.
Often callers to the helpline are in great emotional pain and many are on the brink of ending their own lives, with financial stress in particular putting a huge strain on people’s marriages and relationships.
Console has long maintained that the real suicide figures in this country are higher than the official ones.
Many drownings and single-vehicle crashes are, sadly, due to people taking their own lives, as are some deaths listed simply as caused by undetermined events.
Change of attitudeWe are, however, seeing a change in attitude to suicide in this country.
There has been a marked increase in calls to our helpline not only from young people in crisis but from their friends, parents and work and college colleagues. This is a shift from the traditional call from the person in crisis alone, and it is one to be welcomed.
We know that the message is getting out there that there is help available and that people in crisis need to talk.
We provide more than a listening service – we offer active intervention on the spot, 24 hours a day, and our highly trained counsellors will refer the callers directly to the place in which they can get the best help available.
nNationwide professional suicide prevention and bereavement charity Console offers counselling services and 24-hour helpline
for those in crisis and those bereaved by suicide (Freephone 1800 247 247; console.ie). The charity has full-time counselling centres in Dublin, Limerick, Cork, Wexford, Galway, Kerry and Mayo. It also offers services in Kildare and Athlone and London
Paul Kelly is chief executive and founder of Console