I have written this Special Paper on Suicide in response to suggestions from a number of County Councillors, parents and community groups that I should take a fresh look at the complex and pressing subject of suicide prevention in my role as a Senator with a strong interest in social issues. I have previously published policy documents on A New Approach to Childcare and A New Approach to Ageing and Ageism.
I have embarked on a journey towards finding out everything possible about the causes of suicide, the preventive measures and the suicide prevention policies, and programmes now being promoted by the Government. As part of this process, I organised a seminar on Suicide Prevention: A Call to Action in the Citywest Hotel, Dublin in February 2008 attended by Oireachtas members, County Councillors from all over Ireland and interested members of the public. I have then set out a series of recommendations in this Special Paper designed in the hope to achieve reducing deaths from suicides.
Dr. John Hillery speaking at my recent seminar Suicide Prevention: A Call to Action on suicide in the Dublin Citywest Hotel in February 2008 said “When people discuss suicide the main challenge they seem to see is that of recognition of people who may be at risk of suicide.” When a family lose someone to suicide the guilt and recriminations that follow are painful, damaging and long lasting. They are usually related once again to the issue of recognition. Families often ask themselves why they didn’t notice there was a problem. The wider community is also deeply effected by suicides, particularly of young people, and is fearful of a sequence or cluster of suicides continuing or being triggered as a result of these tragedies. The fact is, according to statistics, more people die in Ireland from suicide than from road deaths. Suicide is an issue that knows no borders thus it is an all-island issue where there is close co-operation between politicians and agencies in both parts of Ireland. Indeed, since the ending of the “Troubles” in the North, there has been devastation in many communities from the increase of suicide cases.
Dr. Dermot Walsh (2008) “Suicide, attempted suicide and prevention in Ireland and elsewhere,” Health Research Board Overview Series 7 points out that suicide is still a rare event and thus it is very difficult to pin point warning signs or to lay out measures that will prevent it happening. However, Dr.Walsh states that what we do know for definite is that there is a very strong connection with alcohol abuse, suicide and self harm.
Developing suicide prevention policies presents a real and exceptional challenge since so little is scientifically proven about it. For example, we cannot be sure why suicide has risen since the 1990s or why the rate of suicide appears to have levelled off now. The last quarter of the twentieth century in Ireland has been a period of great cultural, social and economic change equalising Ireland with most of our near European neighbours. However, we have also seen a growth in suicides, particularly among young males.
There is little evidence, as yet, based on research available in Ireland on the effectiveness of different suicide prevention strategies. There is, however, clear evidence of the link between alcohol consumption and suicide and this leads to the conclusion that reducing alcohol consumption by young people would subsequently reduce suicide rates. International evidence suggests that reducing access to lethal means of suicide would also help combat this issue. A strong predictor of suicide is repeated deliberate self harm and there is a powerful case for urgent psychiatric assessment, intervention and appropriate therapy for these people.
We are fortunate in Ireland that since 2005 we have an in-depth national strategy on Suicide Prevention, ‘Reach Out’, and a National Office for Suicide Prevention (NOSP) chaired by Mr. Geoff Day which is part of the Health Service Executive. The NOSP is doing a great deal to support community initiatives, but the current funding is inadequate in order to achieve the goal of reducing the rate of national suicide by 2012. The HSE needs to put in place the trained staff to provide guidance and support to community initiatives.
I believe that elected public representatives – TDs, Senators, County Councillors, Town Councillors – can play a very positive role in the suicide prevention strategy in their work with constituents. They are often consulted by individual families seeking help for a person who is suicidal. They can guide community groups to sources of expertise on suicide prevention. I strongly recommend that the HSE extend short orientation or briefing programmes to all elected public representatives so that they can be more effective in suicide prevention.
I intend seeking the support of my Party for the recommendations in this Special Paper. With that support, I will seek the assistance of the Minister for Health & Children, Ms. Mary Harney TD, the Minister of State for Mental Health, John Moloney TD, and the Chief Executive of the HSE, Professor Brendan Drumm.
I look forward to extensive responses and dialogue on the analysis and recommendations in this Special Paper on Suicide Prevention.
Senator Mary White