MANY MISPERCEPTIONS and myths surround the topic of suicide, and they are not necessarily helpful to the suicidal person or those associated with them.
That’s according to Dr Evelyn Gordon from Dublin City University, who is carrying out research into suicidality in Ireland.
Those myths include the fear that talking to a person who is feeling suicidal will make them worse, or that the idea of suicide will be planted in their mind, she said.
“We need to challenge current Ireland’s thinking around suicidal behaviour as if it were something that needs to be hidden away, something that needs to be backed off from,” said Dr Gordon, who is a lecturer at DCU’s school of nursing and human sciences.
“We need to shed some of our traditional views around suicide as being a crime or a sin – that is the historical background to some of these negative viewpoints.”
Figures from the Central Statistics Office show that 486 people in Ireland died by suicide in 2010, and in general for each person who dies by suicide, it is estimated that several others attempt it, explains Dr Gordon.
She and colleagues at DCU previously carried out research where young men in Ireland who had felt suicidal participated in interviews and spoke about their experiences of being suicidal and what helped them regain a sense of value in themselves.
Positive factors included being listened to, being asked about their fears and concerns and being involved in their own care and treatment, according to Dr Gordon.
“We know from our own research and from research conducted elsewhere that there are quite a lot of things that can be done to facilitate the suicidal person in renewing their sense of self and moving forward,” she said.
“A human response that demonstrates understanding and concern is helpful. This can be from a family member, a friend, a colleague; it doesn’t have to be from a highly trained health professional. There are some very simple things that you can do, but lots of myths and barriers get in the way.”
DCU and several voluntary organisations held a suicide awareness conference called Light at the end of the tunnel earlier this month.
“We had some people at the conference who have been suicidal, and they gave a clear message,” said Dr Gordon. “It’s much better if someone approaches them and says ‘I know you are upset and I don’t know what to do but I’m happy to sit with you and talk to you if that helps’ than to either ignore their suicidal distress or to back off. People are sometimes afraid that if they talk to the person that it will feel as if they are condoning their suicidality, and that is not the case.”
Dr Gordon is also principal investigator on a pilot trial in Ireland to assess a programme called Pisa (Psychosocial/
psychoeducational intervention for people with recurrent suicide attempts), which was developed in Canada for people who have made two or more suicide attempts.
The 20-week group programme, which is currently being run at four clinical sites in Ireland, involves weekly sessions lasting an hour and a half and covers personal and interpersonal skills such as problem-solving, communication, relationship building and emotional awareness.
Evaluation in Canada indicates that participants benefit from the intervention, and it has received positive feedback in that setting, explained Dr Gordon.
Now with funding from the Health Research Board, the Pisa project at DCU is researching whether the programme is an effective and acceptable addition to current treatment in an Irish context.
The project has already recruited about 70 mental health service users. All receive the standard treatment and some also participate in Pisa, and post-doctoral researcher Dr Aileen O’Reilly at DCU is working with participants to assess their experiences.
“This kind of intervention is specifically targeted at people who generally spend quite a lot of time in mental health outpatient and inpatient services,” said Dr Gordon.
If Pisa is deemed useful for people with chronic suicidality in an Irish context, she would like to see it implemented more widely.
“It’s not an intervention that necessarily needs to be confined to mental health services and we have had some preliminary conversations with various voluntary groups and organisations who are delivering interventions to people at a much more informal level,” she said. “The plan is to talk with them about areas of overlap across a range of similar interventions so that we can promote best practice in the area of mental health and beyond.”
For more information, see pisa.dcu.ie