NEWS — 10 September 2013

President Michael D Higgins

Shelley Marsden

PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins has called for an investigation into the social and regional differences behind Ireland’s recently-released suicide rates.

On the eve of World Suicide Prevention Day (September 10), he told a conference at Dublin’s Croke Park that research was “crucial” to understanding suicide and stopping it.

According to HSE figures, an estimated 507 people died by suicide across Ireland in 2012, but President Higgins argued that such figures obscure major social and regional differences, with rates in certain counties proportionally much higher than in others.

Addressing a conference on World Suicide Prevention Day hosted by charity Console, he said: “The underlying reasons for these different trends need to be investigated”, and described suicide as “a phenomenon which shatters the happiness of too many individuals, families and communities across Ireland”.

Minister Kathleen Lynch, responsible for mental health services in Ireland, said the problem calls for a “very comprehensive and multi-layered response, with interventions at different levels, and involving a range of stakeholders”.

According to last week’s official figures, Ireland was fourth highest in the EU in terms of deaths by suicide amongst young people. Considering the population as a whole, Ireland has the sixth lowest rate of death by suicide in the EU. Some 9,500 people were treated in hospital in 2012 after attempting to commit suicide, and incidents of self harm at emergency departments countrywide numbered 12,010.

Console CEO Paul Kelly said a “true database” recording all deaths that were probably suicides was necessary in order to get a clear picture of how many people are taking their own lives.

Between January 2004 and December 2010, there were 696 cases of undetermined deaths, and there is worry that these could include suicides.  Campaigners have suggested that coroners are averse to recording a verdict of suicide on death certificates – recording instead an open verdict – out of sensitivity to the dead person’s relatives.

Meanwhile, a study has found that nearly half of the men who died by suicide in recent years had been working in the construction industry. The study examined 275 suicides and 32 open verdicts recorded by coroners across Cork city and county between September 2008 and June 2012.

Professor Ella Arensman, of the National Suicide Research Foundation in Cork, called for more awareness of risk factors such as mental health problems.

The study also found more women than men had drugs, often prescribed, in their system when they died – 53% compared with 30% – while more men had drunk alcohol beforehand, 41.9% compared with 17.5%.

Gerry Raleigh, director of the National Office for Suicide Prevention, said more work needs to be done to break the trend between alcohol abuse and suicide. He said: “Alcohol is putting people in to dark places and reinforcing negativity for people and helplessness”.

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