Drop in suicide rate ‘very encouraging’, says Trinity professor

Latest CSO figures show 274 people took their own lives over 10-month period in 2016

The total number of suicides for last year is set to be lower than the 451 recorded in 2015. Photograph: Ben Goode/Getty

The total number of suicides for last year is set to be lower than the 451 recorded in 2015. Photograph: Ben Goode/Getty

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A significant drop in the rate of suicide in Ireland has been described as “very encouraging” .

Figures from the Central Statistics Office up to October show 274 people died by suicide in 2016, with the final figures for the year to be released next month.

The total number of suicides for last year is set to be lower than the 451 recorded in 2015. Since 2011, the suicide rate in Ireland has fallen by nearly 20 per cent.

“The rate is going in the right direction, but this is still an urgent, important problem,” said professor of psychiatry in Trinity College Dublin Brendan Kelly.

“The overall decrease in the suicide rate masks an increase in the rate among young men, which needs to be addressed through better support services, alcohol and drug misuse services, and collaboration with schools, colleges and sports organisations” Prof Kelly, who is also a consultant psychiatrist at Tallaght Hospital, said during an annual lecture on mental health care in Ireland at the hospital last week.

Mental health services

The Trinity academic outlined that there was also a need for greater investment in mental health services targeted at young people. “While emergency psychiatric care is available in emergency departments of hospitals, there needs to be an increase in community-based care at weekends and out-of-hours,” he said.

“There is a particular need for substantial enhancement of services for children and adolescents.”

The keynote lecture on psychiatry and community care also outlined that Ireland went from a country with historically too many patients committed to mental health facilities to too little.

“In the 1950s, Ireland had more mental hospital beds per head of population than any other country in the world. Today, our involuntary admission rate in Ireland is less than half of that in England. The pendulum has swung away from inpatient care,” Prof Kelly said.

The move away from committing patients with serious mental health problems to inpatient mental health facilities has led to increased rates of people suffering without proper care, particularly among those who are homeless or in the prison system, Prof Kelly said.

The fear of infringing of a patient’s liberty by committing them into care at inpatient mental health facilities has led to people slipping through the cracks, he said.

“We need to reach a better balance between respecting autonomy and avoiding neglect of the mentally ill, ” Prof Kelly said.

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