German model could reduce rate of suicide


The National Suicide Research Foundation says the Government could significantly reduce the number of people taking their own lives by adopting a suicide prevention programme that has reduced the suicide rate in Germany by 15 per cent.

Prof Ella Arensman, the foundation’s director of research, said research shows that the approach proved highly effective in helping to prevent suicide and improve services for those most at risk.

The programme involves large-scale training of professionals, high-quality services for those at risk and much closer links between health services and accredited services in the community.

The model led to a fall of 24 per cent in suicide and attempted suicide in the Nuremberg area of Germany between 2001 and 2002.

It was subsequently rolled out across 73 regions and led to a decrease in the national suicide rate of 15.4 per cent between 1999 and 2011.

Multiple interventions

“The key to the programme’s success is that it implements multiple interventions in a systematic, intensive and sustainable way,” Prof Arensman said. “In Ireland, we’re doing a lot of this work, but it isn’t necessarily systematic or intensive. We need to optimise the services that we have. But most of the interventions in suicide prevention that we use in Ireland have never been evaluated.”

While the country has made significant strides in tackling road deaths, the number of suicides has been climbing in recent years. She said suicide prevention only received a fraction of what is spent on road safety even though there are three times more suicides than road deaths.

“Perhaps, the time for a statutory body solely focused on suicide prevention has come. If properly resourced, it could implement, on a national basis, the multilevel preventive programmes which have been demonstrated to be effective elsewhere.”

A key aspect of the model is a “train the trainer” approach, Prof Arensman said, in which those who are trained then train others within an organisation. This, she said, ensured it was sustainable and reduced costs significantly.

Not working together

It is estimated there are several hundred support groups or counselling organisations offering services in different parts of the State. However, most are not working together to improve support or training.

Prof Arensman said the approach taken in Germany could be easily adopted in Ireland as it mirrored many of the activities taking place here under the State’s 10-year suicide prevention strategy, Reach Out. “It just means approaching suicide in a more intensive, targeted and sustainable way,” she said.

The response to suicide – especially in the case of clusters of so-called “copycat” suicides – is often too slow, she said, and not sufficiently organised.

A European network (the European Alliance Against Depression) advocating the programme – known as a “multi-level intervention programme” – has been formed and is now active across 10 countries.

If you need support, contact the Samaritans (1850-609090) or the 1Life freephone suicide prevention helpline (1800-247100)

'Copy-cat' cases: 22 deaths in part of Cork

The response of the Government and health authorities to clusters of so-called “copycat” suicides is often too slow, according to Prof Ella Arensman of the National Suicide Research Foundation.

The National Suicide Research Foundation found that between September 2008 and March 2011 there were 22 deaths by suicide in one part of Cork.

Links between the deaths were only confirmed following interviews carried out by a special research team.

Researchers found that the young people involved were strongly connected to their peers and less connected to their families.

There was also a sub-group of families with severe psychosocial problems, in which other family members had taken their lives.

In this case, Prof Arensman said she had a meeting with senior officials in the spring of 2010 at the Department of Health to alert them to what she said was a significant public health risk.

“There needed to be a rapid response in terms of counselling back-up services, training for local GPs and awareness and high-quality support for bereaved families,” she said.

“A faster response would have been facilitated if such a multilevel intervention programme would have been in place.”