Call for national suicide surveillance system similar to Cork model

Ireland’s first professor of public mental health says accurate numbers needed

Ireland’s first professor of public mental health, Ella Arensman. Photograph: Eric Luke

Ireland’s first professor of public mental health, Ella Arensman. Photograph: Eric Luke

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Ireland’s first professor of public mental health, Ella Arensman, says the country needs a national roll out of a real-time suicide data programme, similar to the one currently operational in Cork.

The National Suicide Research Foundation (NSRF) teamed up with the Health Service Executive and coroners in Cork three years ago to develop the scheme. Data on suspected suicide cases is gathered within 10 days to a fortnight after the death.

Prof Arensman, who has been appointed professor of public mental health within University College Cork’s school of health, and is the chief scientist at the NSRF, says such data is vital to mobilise a faster and more proactive response.

“One of the huge challenges is that in Ireland so far we don’t have a national real-time suicide surveillance system like the one in Cork. What we have is only regional. From our perspective now the timing is very good and very important to up-scale this to a national system. It is important to have this real-time data in terms of preparedness for another pandemic or other public health emergencies.

“We have been working in this area for a long time. With the pandemic it is only now that people realise how important this information is,” she said.

Prof Arensman says they haven’t seen a “significant increase” in suicide rates in Cork since the pandemic began last year. However, they also haven’t seen a significant decrease in suicide. She says multiple lockdowns, while necessary to contain Covid-19, have impacted on the mental health of the public.

She is particularly anxious about persons who are at home with violent partners.

“There is concern about victims of domestic violence in terms of their resilience. The unexpected phase three of Covid came about very rapidly. I would encourage people to pick up the phone [for help].”

She says the lack of real-time suicide data in Ireland means that we look to other countries in terms of mental health issues relating to the pandemic. In Japan the early phases of Covid saw no marked increase in suicide rates. However, she says some worrying patterns are emerging.

“We do have concerns because Japan has seen significant increases [in suicide] of women in the later stages of Covid. I would have concerns about possible increases in suicide and self-harm here in Ireland.”

Members of the public who need emotional support are asked to contact the Samaritans on 116 123 or Pieta House on 1800 247 247. People in distress can also text the word Help to Pieta House on 51444.

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