Suicide rate at all-time high, says Minister


IRELAND’S SUICIDE rate was the highest in its history, Minister of State for Health Kathleen Lynch revealed in the Dáil yesterday. She said provisional figures for 2009 indicated an increase of 4 per cent to 527, the highest number ever recorded.

“The increase is mainly in men in the middle-age group,’’ said Ms Lynch. “However, we are also seeing a rise in the number of women dying by suicide, although the numbers are still significantly lower than in men.’’

Ms Lynch said total funding to support suicide prevention initiatives was in the region of €8.7 million. Undoubtedly, she added, the economic position was having an effect on people’s mental health and wellbeing.

“The impact of unemployment and the strain of financial difficulties on physical and mental health are well-known,’’ she added.

“Following job loss, people report higher levels of stress, depression and anger.’’

She said the loss of personal control and self-esteem made it more difficult at times to keep in contact with friends and colleagues.

Ms Lynch said the HSE’s national office for suicide prevention had launched a “tough economic times” programme following requests from organisations such as Citizens Information and Money Advice and Budgeting Service for information and training.

Some 150,000 information leaflets highlighting the actions to be taken were produced for the public, as well as a guidance book for organisations advising how to prepare staff to recognise and respond to suicidal behaviours.

Farmers’ marts were also targeted with information, as well as events such as the ploughing championships, she added. Ms Lynch said she intended working with the HSE and voluntary agencies to introduce initiatives to counteract the worrying trend.

“As a first step, we must ensure that we avoid duplication of services and suicide prevention initiatives,’’ she said. “This will help us get better value for the money that is available to us and make sure that we maximise our effectiveness.’’ Long-time campaigner on the issue Dan Neville (FG) warned against using the term “commit suicide’’, adding that suicide had been a crime up to 1993.

“There is no other way one dies which is referred to by use of the word ‘commit’,’’ he said. “The language we use in respect of suicide is extremely important.”

Experts, he said, believed at least 40 per cent of deaths which are undetermined were suicides.

“Suicide is now the most common cause of death among 15 to 24-year-olds in Ireland,” Mr Neville said.

Seán Ó Fearghail (FF) said the House had spent hours discussing the banks and the financial crisis, which was worthwhile and necessary. “However, there is a human side to the recession which is entirely tangible,” he said.

“Suicide rates have increased and for people touched by such a tragedy its effects will stay with them for much longer than will those of the financial crisis.’’

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin (SF) said his party had proposed that suicide prevention be made an area of co-operation under the North-South Ministerial Council.

“More work is needed to target those people in our society most at risk of mental illness,’’ Mr Ó Caoláin added. “Sadly, it is a fact that the example I cite relates to lesbian, gay and bisexual people.”

Maureen O’Sullivan (Ind) said Dublin’s north inner city was devastated by drugs and allied to that was the number of suicides.

Richard Boyd Barrett (ULA) said social welfare cuts, and cuts to invalidity pensions and disability payments, all disproportionately hit the vulnerable sections of society where the incidence of suicide was highest.

“Health cuts affect people with mental health problems who need our assistance,’’ he said.

Finian McGrath (Ind) said the Government should create a dedicated position in the HSE with responsibility for implementing policy. Suicide was preventable, he said.

“I do not want to hear anyone whinging or moaning about the costs involved,” said Mr McGrath. “These are important issues and money is being spent on other projects.”