Extreme austerity measures led to rise in suicide, summit told

Study of 307 cases identifies link between austerity and psychological vulnerability

“Extreme measures” taken by the Government during the recession contributed to a rise in suicides among vulnerable people, a conference has heard.

Research on the issue was undertaken by the National Suicide Research Foundation (NSRF) between 2008 and 2011 in Cork.

People who had not benefited from the Celtic Tiger were "doubly affected by the recession", NSRF director of research Dr Professor Ella Arensman told the Irish Association of Suicidology annual conference in Killarney, Thursday.

An in-depth study of 307 people who took their own lives during the period in Cork City and County included interviews with health practitioners who had dealt with the deceased and reviews of coroners’ files.


It found a link between austerity, economic factors and psychological vulnerability, said Prof Arensman, who is attached to the Department of Public Health at UCC.

A person’s occupation defined them very much and the impact of unemployment on mental health was huge, contributors said.

A new socioeconomic term, “the precariat”, was being used for workers affected by the current precarious nature of employment, and this was having further impacts on mental health.

Significant increase

Everyone knew there had been a significant increase in suicides among males in Ireland during the recession, amounting to 15 per cent. But there was not a simple "one-way" relationship between unemployment and suicide, Prof Arensman said.

Ireland had suffered “extreme measures” of austerity imposed by the Government, she said.

People had lost their medical cards and mental health services were cut “very fast”.

Suicide figures were still 12 per cent more than before the economic crisis, she added.

Sara Leitao, who undertook postdoctoral research into 2008-2011 suicides in Cork, found high rates among construction workers, whom the recession had hit hard. She also found high rates among nurses and medical staff.

‘Big stigma’

There was “a big stigma” about mental health among health workers, and this was not unique to Ireland, Prof Arensman suggested.

“The nurse cannot be sick... The doctor is on a certain pedestal... They can’t admit to having mental health problems,” she said.

Prof Arensman also warned of the dangers of “misinformation” and sensationalism in media reporting of suicide.

The family in the case of the recent Hawe murder-suicide case in Cavan had been painted as “the perfect ideal family” in the community. That had resulted in phone calls to helplines, especially by mothers asking whether such an event could happen out of the blue to them too.

“It caused a lot of fears among mothers,” Prof Arensman said.