Welfare staff to get suicide awareness training


HEALTH AUTHORITIES are to provide frontline staff at social welfare offices with suicide awareness training following rising concern over the impact of the economic downturn on people who have lost their jobs.

International evidence indicates that that during periods of sustained increases in unemployment, people out of work are three times more likely to consider suicidal behaviour.

The National Office for Suicide Prevention is targeting suicide intervention skills training at relevant agencies including social welfare offices, as well as Money Advice and Budgeting Service (Mabs) and Citizens Information Centres. The office, part of the HSE, says it will provide training free of charge to help improve the skills of professionals in responding to people who may indicate suicidal thoughts.

It has also produced guidelines for workplaces and organisations dealing with unemployed people to help frontline staff respond to “stressful situations”.

The move follows concern by support organisations about the impact the economic downturn is having on the mental health and well being of people who have lost their jobs. Research suggests that even among those with no record of mental illness, unemployment is still associated with about a 70 per cent greater suicide risk.

Financial difficulties and job insecurity are significant factors in depression, anxiety, stress and suicidal thoughts. Among the signs that may indicate a mental health problem are withdrawing from friends and family, undue worrying, changes in eating or sleeping patterns, feeling tired all the time and apathy.

Geoff Day, director of the HSE’s National Office for Suicide Prevention, said individuals, friends, family and employers could all play a part in reducing the potential impact on suicide rates.

“Being aware of when someone’s mental health may be affected by financial strain and knowing the support services that are available to help is an important step in combating increasing suicide rates,” he said.

The HSE is planning to distribute more than 100,000 leaflets and pocket information cards with details of support agencies and advice on how to look after mental health for those who are unemployed or have financial difficulties. Copies of the leaflet will be distributed through the HSE’s health promotion departments, suicide prevention resource offices, community welfare offices, Mabs and Citizens Information Centres.

Two training programmes are also being provided by health authorities which aim to increase awareness and skills in suicide prevention. Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training is a two-day programme that seeks to improve the skills of professionals in responding to people who may indicate suicidal thoughts.

A second course, Safetalk, is a half-day version of the same course for communities and the public. It aims to increase awareness of self-harm and suicide.

Both of these courses will be offered free of charge to workplaces and organisations working with people who are unemployed, according to the HSE. Additional programmes are being provided as well as those planned for 2009.

Information on suicide awareness training is available online at www.healthpromotion.ie or by phoning the HSE information line on 1850-241850.

For support, contact the Samaritans (1850-609090) or e-mail jo@samaritans.org or Aware (1890-303302), Mon-Wed 10am-10pm; Thurs-Sun 10am-1am