Recorded suicides in Ireland fall to lowest level in two decades

Figures belie warnings that Covid curbs and concerns would result in surge, scientist says

A woman holds a candle during a candelit vigil at College Green in Dublin on World Suicide Prevention Day remembering those lost to suicide. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

A woman holds a candle during a candelit vigil at College Green in Dublin on World Suicide Prevention Day remembering those lost to suicide. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

The number of suicides recorded in the State fell to its lowest level in at least two decades last year, provisional figures indicate. The number among women, however, was higher than in 2017.

There were 340 recorded suicides last year – a rate of 6.8 per 100,000 people, according to data published on Friday. This compares with 421 (8.6 per 100,000) in 2019, 437 (9.0) in 2018 and 383 (8.0) in 2017.

A total of 486 people died by suicide in 2000, with high numbers also recorded in 2001 (519), 2009 (552) and 2011 (554).

However, Prof Ella Arensman, chief scientist with the National Suicide Research Foundation at University College Cork, said the latest figures, contained in the 2020 annual report from the National Office of Suicide Prevention (NOSP), should be taken with caution.

She said given that coroners’ inquests were postponed for much of last year and many postmortems had been delayed, there were likely to be “late registrations” of suicides for last year.

The 2019 and 2018 figures published in the annual report are also preliminary, with late-registered suicides yet to be added. In preceding years back to 2012, where both preliminary and late-registered deaths are published, suicides registered later increased preliminary figures by between 39 and 81.

Warnings

Prof Arensman said the figures for last year belie the dire warnings from some that Covid-19 restrictions and concerns would result in a surge in suicides.

The data also tallies with indications from coroners earlier this year that there would not be significant increases in suicides from last year before their courts.

Coroners who responded to queries from The Irish Times said they had seen very little increase or none in suspected suicides in their files.

In one Leinster county, for example, the coroner recorded 10 suicides in each of 2018 and 2019 and had seven files of suspected suicides for last year. In another county, also in Leinster, there were 12 in 2019 with 10 anticipated for last year.

A Connacht coroner recorded eight for both 2018 and 2019 and estimates a total of six for last year.

Prof Arensman said suicide rates have remained steady throughout the pandemic in most higher-income countries such as Ireland and has pointed out that most have had at least one suicide-prevention strategy.

The Irish strategy, Connecting for Life 2015-2024, works at national and regional levels, funded by the NOSP, with the Health Service Executive and local NGOs. Its budget last year was €13.3 million – up from €12.25 million in 2019 – of which more than €7 million was spent on grants to agencies working in suicide prevention and mental-health awareness.

Covid-19 impact

The annual report, noting the “negative mental-health impacts of Covid-19” identifies “priority groups” for preventative measures in coming years. These are “young people, people with pre-existing mental health and physical health conditions, people who have experienced child sexual abuse, and those mainly women who experience domestic violence”.

Prof Arensman said the reduced stigma when it comes to speaking out about mental-health issues in Ireland was important.

“I do not think we would have kept the figures as low if we had entered Covid-19 with very high levels of stigma. There has been some buffering as a result of a lot of hard work, by an enormous number of people, over the past 15 years.”

Samaritans’ free helpline is at 116123, or you can email jo@samaritans.ie or jo@samaritans.org; Pieta’s free helpline is at 1800-247247, or text help to 51444