Change in legislation required for true levels of suicide to be known

Coroner says volume of deaths by suicide ‘almost at contagion levels’

Speaking ahead of a weekend seminar on suicide, coroner Brendan Nix said suicide is “almost at contagion levels” and the true figures are being cloaked by the fact that suicide is not recorded as a verdict at inquests. Photograph: Getty Images

Speaking ahead of a weekend seminar on suicide, coroner Brendan Nix said suicide is “almost at contagion levels” and the true figures are being cloaked by the fact that suicide is not recorded as a verdict at inquests. Photograph: Getty Images

 

The true level of suicide in Ireland will never be known until there is a change in legislation to allow for a verdict of suicide at inquests, the coroner for west Limerick has warned.

Speaking ahead of a weekend seminar on suicide, Brendan Nix said the issue is “almost at contagion levels” and the true figures are being cloaked by the fact suicide is not recorded as a verdict at inquests.

Mr Nix, who is also a senior counsel, said verdicts of suicide should be officially recorded at inquests to allow for real statistics on the tragedy of suicide.

The barrister, who presides over inquests in west Limerick, which covers Newcastlewest, Abbeyfeale, Kilmallock and Croom, said he has never seen a verdict of suicide recorded over his past 11 years as coroner for the area.

He believes the hands of coroners are tied because they can only recommend a verdict of death in accordance with the medical evidence as given by a pathologist.

“The verdict has to be in accordance with the medical evidence”, he said, adding he had yet to see a medical report that says a person took their own life.

“If a pathologist is capable of finding that a person died by their own hand as a consequence of tying a ligature around their neck and suspending themselves, then that is the verdict that should be recorded by the jury - that this person took their own life,” he added.

Central Statistics Office figures show 507 people died by suicide in Ireland last year, 15 of those in Limerick city and 16 in Co Limerick.

In 2011 the number of people who took their own lives in Limerick city was 11, while it was double that figure in Co Limerick, at 22.

Overall, Limerick has one of the highest rates of suicide in the country at 26.6 per cent per 100,000, compared to 11 per cent nationally.

‘Critical proportions’

Mr Nix warned suicide levels in Co Limerick are at “critical proportions” and believes there is a need for the public to be made aware of the true statistics.

“Since they decriminalised it, I don’t see why not? I mean, whose feelings are we sparing here? Are we sparing the families who are grieving? They all know what happened. They know the truth. We don’t have to publish the names of people who committed suicide but we can say that these are the official figures.

“I certainly think that by going public with the rate of suicide and the prevalence of it, it won’t do any harm. It is not going to go away... It is not being spoken of publicly.

“It’s as if it’s a taboo subject, but it hasn’t stopped it. It is almost at contagion levels,” he continued.

Suicide statistics are gathered by the CSO following an analysis of information from the General Registries Office, which records births and deaths, and information from the gardaí.

“I consider that suicide in west Limerick has reached critical proportions. It is a whole blot on the community out there,” Mr Nix added.

The coroner also said he would like to see a number of free phones installed at known locations where people have taken their own lives.

A seminar on the subject to be attended by emergency services staff and others working in the area of suicide prevention is being held on Saturday as of 9am at Limerick County Hall. Anyone affected by suicide is invited to attend.