Funds shortfall to hit target for suicide rate cut, says Senator


GOVERNMENT PLANS to cut suicide rates in the State by 20 per cent over a five-year period will not be achieved as a result of a funding shortfall, a Fianna Fáil Senator has said.

Senator Mary White, in a special paper on suicide being published today, states bluntly that “the current funding is inadequate in order to achieve the goal of reducing the rate of national suicide by 2012”.

She says the National Office for Suicide Prevention is “the engine and heart of the country’s suicide prevention strategy”, but it has not received the funding recommended in the national strategy for combating suicide.

In 2005 it was recommended that the office receive a budget of €5.5 million, but its budget for 2008 is €3.5 million.

Ms White has called for the budget of the national office to be increased next year to a minimum of €5 million and says it should rise by at least €1 million a year to €8 million by 2012. She notes that three suicide prevention officer posts in the HSE are unfilled.

In her report, following several months of research on suicide, Ms White stresses that more people take their own lives in Ireland than die on the roads.

In 2006 the deaths of more than 400 people were attributed to suicide. But Ms White stresses the real figure is probably higher.

She claims many suicides are “misclassified as undetermined deaths” and studies have indicated that some road crashes are actually suicides.

A Finnish study into road deaths between 1987 and 1991 indicated about 6 per cent of road fatalities were likely suicides, while a study of road fatalities in Ireland between 1978 and 1992 by Dr John Connolly concluded that 4.5 per cent were likely suicides, she says.

In her report, What We Can Do About Suicide in the New Ireland, Ms White says evidence-based research findings indicate that reducing alcohol consumption, training GPs in identifying depression, and restricting access to lethal means are effective approaches in preventing suicide.

She recommends that the Government increase excise duties on alcoholic drinks most favoured by young people and that high-profile sponsorship of sporting events and concerts by drinks groups be phased out over the next five years.

She also wants new legislation to reduce the pack sizes of certain over-the-counter medicines, which are dangerous in large doses.

Ms White recommends that the four HSE regions immediately produce business plans to show how they intend to address the waiting lists of children and adolescents for psychiatric services in their areas. “There is an urgent need to address the crisis in the lack of mental health care for children and adolescents,” she says.