Minister defends record on tackling suicide

 

The Minister for Health and Children has defended the Government's record on tackling suicide, saying a "positive and committed" response to the issue has been forthcoming from both the statutory and voluntary sectors.

In an address written for his opening of a National Suicide Bereavement Support Network (NSBSN) conference in Co Cork at the weekend, Mr Martin said an extra €1.1 million was being provided this year for suicide prevention programmes, and for research aimed at improving the understanding of suicide and attempted suicide, or parasuicide.

This funding is in addition to almost €5m provided between 1999 and 2001 for suicide prevention activities.

Mr Martin's comments follow criticism last week of the Government's efforts on suicide prevention in light of newly-published Central Statistics Office figures showing more people died of suicide last year than in road incidents.

A total of 448 people took their own lives in 2001 in what was the second highest annual suicide toll on record.

Criticising the level of funding in the area, Dr John F. Connolly, secretary of the Irish Association of Suicidology, described as "paltry" the annual budget of the National Suicide Review Group (NSRG), which was established to oversee prevention initiatives following the 1998 Report of the National Task Force on Suicide.

Dr Connolly noted investment in suicide prevention contrasted starkly with that on road safety campaigns.

Describing the 2001 figures as "disappointing", the Minister said they highlighted the need "to intensify our efforts" and to put additional resources in place. He said the Department had asked the NSRG to examine the figures in the context of the trends over the past few years and to prepare proposals for further action by health boards and service providers.

In a separate statement, the Department said it wished to correct any misapprehension that it did not have a strategy on suicide prevention.

A number of people working in the area have said they did not regard the task force report as a strategy as, they said, it did not include a means of monitoring the implementation of initiatives, or measuring outcomes.

However, the Department said the task force report "outlined a comprehensive strategy to reduce the incidence of suicide and attempted suicide in Ireland. That strategy is now in place."

Mr Martin added: "Since the publication of the report, there has been a positive and committed response among both the statutory and voluntary sectors towards finding ways of tackling the tragic problem of suicide."

One of the actions cited by the Minister was the appointment of resource officers in all the health boards with specific responsibility for implementing the task force recommendations.

"The level of capital funding available for the development of mental health facilities in the community has also been increased in order to make services more accessible to people who may be at risk of suicide."