Inquests into death by suicide must be held in private and made less traumatic and intrusive for grieving families, according to Irish suicide prevention and bereavement charity Console.
At their World Suicide Prevention Day conference at Croke Park yesterday the charity said that Ireland’s legal requirement for a public inquest after a suicide death needs to be reviewed so as not to prolong the family’s grieving process unnecessarily.
Console CEO and founder Paul Kelly said Ireland should look at the system in Scotland and Northern Ireland where a public inquest is not held if it is not deemed in the public interest and the authorities agree the death was suicide.
“Families bereaved by suicide have gone through one of the most devastating events possible, and in many ways they can feel as if they are on being put on trial at a public inquest,” said Mr Kelly.
“Traumatised families can be asked to give evidence, suicide notes can be made public and family members can be questioned about last conversations and the deceased’s state of mind.
“Deeply private information about drugs or alcohol in the deceased’s system, or if they had a row with someone before ending their life, can all be discussed in a public forum with the media in attendance.
“This is a deeply intrusive system, and one that should not exist as we face up to the reality that over 475 families this year will have to face this, sometimes unnecessary, trauma.
“Suicide and other sudden and unnatural deaths have to be investigated but the dignity and privacy of the family must be at the core of these proceedings.”
Mr Kelly added that Ireland’s current system adds to the stigma of death by suicide.
“Public inquests can have a trial-like aspect which harks back to the days before suicide was decriminalised in 1993.
“Families do not have to undergo such public scrutiny when someone dies of cancer and we feel that the individual private and personal circumstances surrounding deaths by suicide are not necessarily a matter of public interest.
“Another problem is that families may not get the opportunity to grieve properly because they are on tenterhooks waiting for an inquest which could take up to a year.
“They think the inquest is going to give them answers about their loved one’s death when its actual role is to establish the facts and reach a medical conclusion.
“We need a more sensitive and compassionate way of investigating suicide deaths in the Republic and we should start by making the inquests into those deaths private,” said Mr Kelly.
Other speakers at the conference included GP and author Dr Harry Barry who examined the rising rate of suicide and self-harm among young and considered whether today’s adolescents are facing unique challenges not seen by other generations.
Dr Barry said we need to educate our young people in how to deal with emotional distress which he describes as “the golden thread” running through problems such as drink and drug addiction, cyber bulling and self-harm.