One in 10 young adults have attempted suicide, survey finds

Binge-drinking has increased and decline in smoking has stalled, Department of Health research shows

One in 10 young adults say they have attempted to take their own life at some point in the past, according to a Department of Health survey.

Overall, 6 per cent of those who responded to questions in the survey on suicide report they have attempted to take their own life at some point in the past.

The rate among over-65s is 1 per cent, rising to 9 per cent among those with a chronic condition, 10 per cent among those aged under 35, and 15 per cent in people with fair or bad general health.

Chief medical officer Prof Breda Smyth said she was “very concerned” about the issue of suicide. The population has been “significantly traumatised” during the Covid pandemic and this has impacted mental health and increased suicide rates in some areas, she said.

Healthy Ireland 2022

Two-thirds (67 per cent) say they know someone who has died by suicide, with 14 per cent knowing someone close who has died this way.

Eight per cent of those who know someone who has died by suicide report that the death has a significant or devastating effect on them that they still feel.

The report says that “individuals for whom suicide resonates more strongly may have been more likely to take part in this module, meaning that caution is necessary when applying the results of this part of the survey to the overall population”.

Following publication of the report, the Department issued a clarification stating that 4,300 out of the overall number of 7,500 respondents had “self-selected” to fill out the module on suicide, and were therefore not nationally representative as people for whom suicide “resonates” may have been more likely to participate.

Deaths by suicide fell 13 per cent in 2020 compared to the year before, it pointed out. Although rates of suicidal ideation have increased significantly according to the OECD, there is not yet any indication of an increase in rates of death by suicide.

“While there is as yet no indication that rates of death by suicide amongst young people have increased across Europe since the start of the pandemic, it is critically important that suicide prevention measures are strengthened and that rates of death by suicide are monitored closely,” the Department said.

Asked about the finding, Prof Ella Arensman of UCC’s School of Public Health and the National Suicide Research Foundation said it appeared to be in accordance with most other surveys in Ireland. “However, when the focus of surveys is on non-fatal self-harm, which is not only associated with death-oriented motives but also other motives, such as wanting relief from an unbearable state of mind, these prevalence rates are higher.”

She cautioned that the OECD’s figures on suicide may be an under-estimate in some countries due to late registration of deaths.

More than one-quarter (28 per cent) of the population reports having a long-term illness or chronic condition, for over six months or more, the Healthy Ireland survey also finds.

However, 82 per cent of people perceive their health to be “good” or “very good” with only 3 per cent describing it as “bad or “very bad”.

The survey categorises 22 per cent of the population as binge-drinkers, up from 20 per cent in 2021 but down from 28 per cent in 2018.

Overall alcohol consumption in the population is up 1 per cent, to 67 per cent.

Asked about the Government’s recently announced plans to allow pubs and nightclubs open longer, Prof Smyth said increased availability of alcohol gives rise to the risk of increased consumption and poor outcomes. “It is a an area of concern that I will be focusing on and having further consultation regarding increasing availability”.

Progress in cutting smoking has stalled, with rates increasing slightly among younger people. Consumption of e-cigarettes peaks at 6 per cent in those aged under 25.

Prof Smyth acknowledged there is still “a long road to travel” to get smoking rates down to the target of 5 per cent and this requires continued support for smoking reduction initiatives.

Half of all women report being overweight or obese, but this rises to 63 per cent among men.

One-third of the population (34 per cent) says they are currently trying to lose weight.

Just under half of respondents, and 40 per cent of children, visited the dentist in the previous 12 months. Most visits were paid for out of private funds.

Two-thirds of women (67 per cent) says they have experienced period pain at some point, with 59 per cent experiencing period-related fatigue or tiredness and 56 per cent premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Ten per cent said they are severely limited on a regular basis due to period symptoms.

– If you are affected by any issue in this article, please contact Pieta House on 1800-247247 or the Samaritans by telephoning 116123 (free) or Text HELP to 51444.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times