Suicide Among Young Men


Sir, - John Waters (Opinion, March 2nd), says that, apart from himself, no journalist, politician or clergyman or any public figure has drawn attention to the fact that 88 per cent of suicides in the months of July, August and September of last year were by males. It may be that priests like myself, up and down the country, were too busy burying those victims, composing homilies of comfort for their funeral liturgies and consoling their bereaved to find time to read and respond to his column in this paper.

First of all let me say that I have little interest in John Waters's personal opinion on any subject. However, since I greatly admire his courage and determination to pursue and place before the public issues which some people (including my good self, occasionally) may consider best left "under the carpet", I often read his column in The Irish Times. However, I believe he is in danger of losing the run of himself on the issue of suicide.

We need to multiply the figures for those who kill themselves by at least a factor of 10 to apprehend the terrible fall-out from suicide for relatives and friends - ignored in every article by John Waters. Having found myself (like many other priests and clergymen too frequently today) called to the scene of suicides, and also having intervened in suicide attempts, I am in no doubt (independent of the circumstances and intention which may have given rise to these acts), that it takes a considerable amount of violence, self-hatred and rejection of others to kill one's self. If this "male" energy had been directed towards another I have no doubt too that I would often have been called to the scene of a murder.

I think our society would greatly benefit if more resources were devoted to researching the connection between the increase in suicide and the correlation between violent male crime and male suicide in Ireland.

If it is accepted that suicide, in its simplest definition, is the killing of one's self, and murder is the killing of another, and that mental illness plays a major role in suicide, why is mental illness not accepted in most courts as a palliating circumstance leading to the acquittal of the accused when a charge of murder has been preferred.?

And if it is claimed by psychiatrists that 98 per cent of the 433 people who killed themselves in 1997 (and of the awaited final figures for 1998) were suffering from some form of mental illness and therefore not culpable for their actions, why is the plea of "guilty but insane" - non compos mentis - so little submitted by the defence and so little accepted by our Criminal Court juries and indeed also in the Special Criminal Court?

Why should those who pump bullets into others, and not themselves, not be treated "compassionately", with vast amounts of time, research and money being devoted to understanding them? Why is there such a "reluctance" by John Waters "to engage with the fact" that the vast majority of murders - like suicides, are committed by males?

I think a major problem too, which it mostly prefers to ignore, has arisen for the Catholic Church in Ireland in recent years when it demands or expects a child of seven or eight years to have reached the "use of reason" before giving him or her the second sacrament of Christian initiation, Eucharist - and then finds itself burying the same child, only a few years later, in his teens or mid-twenties, having committed suicide after being conferred with the final sacrament of initiation, Confirmation. Can insanity take hold so quickly of one anointed by the Holy Spirit?

I always believed, and it is the teaching of my Church, that all human beings, inasmuch as they are individuals endowed with reason and free will, and thus invested with personal responsibility, are bound by both their nature and by moral duty to search for the truth, above all religious truth. And once they have come to know it they are bound to adhere to it and to arrange their entire lives according to the demands of such truth. Most bishops who confer the Sacrament of Confirmation in these weeks of Lent wouldn't even know where to find this belief of the Catholic Church and much less see any need to invite young people to embrace it.

I think it is prophetic that Dublin's civic authorities will erect a spike pointing to nothing at the end of this millennium. For decades church spires have been pointing in the same direction for young people in every parish in Ireland. - Yours, etc., Rev Peter O'Callaghan,

Inch, Killeagh, Co Cork.