Did you know that it is estimated that every day almost 3000 people across the world take their own lives – that’s an estimated one million people every year? But the crisis goes beyond that. The World Health Organisation says that ‘for every person who completes a suicide, 20 or more may attempt to end their lives.’
Moreover, the statistics almost certainly disguise the true extent of the crisis. Prof Kevin Malone of the School of Medicine and Medical Science UCD and St. Vincent’s University Hospital gave evidence on suicide to the Dáil Joint Committee on Health and Children two years ago and reported that a study he carried out into suicide in 23 countries concluded that suicide levels are significantly higher than the official statistics suggest.
Monday was World Suicide Prevention Day. It is part of a week long international campaign to increase awareness of this issue. And it is a hugely difficult time for those families enduring the loss of a loved one.
This will be the 10th year of this concerted global effort to encourage greater research and education into suicide.
In west Belfast and Louth bereaved families and suicide awareness and prevention groups will this week be involved in a range of actions to highlight the problem of suicide in our society and the tragic impact it has on families.
In Louth SOSAD (Save our Sons and Daughters) and the M.A.D Youth Theatre Group are holding a series of events focusing on suicide. In Belfast groups like the west Belfast Suicide Awareness and Support Group and PIPS (Public Initiative for the Prevention of Suicide and Self-harm) and many others will also be doing their bit to increase public consciousness and understanding of the scale of the problem and of the support and help that exists for those who are at risk.
The human cost of suicide on families and communities in Louth and Belfast and across our society is devastating. The reality is that all sections and all generations are affected, from the very young to the very old, and for those living in rural and urban areas.
Two months ago figures from the Central Statistics Office in Dublin revealed that the number of suicides registered in the 26 counties last year was 525, an increase of 7 per cent on 2010.
It is also widely accepted that the increase in the numbers of suicides, attempted suicides and cases of self harming is directly linked to the economic depression and the stresses this is imposing on individuals and their families.
A pilot study by the National Suicide Research Foundation, published several months ago, looked at 190 deaths in Cork and revealed that almost a third of the suicide victims there worked in the construction and related businesses – the sector most affected by the economic crisis.
In the north it is a fact that those living in disadvantaged areas are three times more likely to take their lives and unemployment has an impact there too.
According to the Department of Health in Belfast over 600 people died from suicide in the two years 2010 and 2011. In 2009 West and North Belfast recorded the highest numbers of suicide in the north with 22 in the west of the City and 20 in the north.
The Public Health Agency (PHA) has recorded an increase of 64% in suicides in the first decade of the new century. 76% of all suicides in the north in 2002 were male. Six years later in 2008 this figure had increased to 77%.
Self harming is also a huge issue. Thousands are admitted to hospitals every year as a result of self-harm which in many cases go unreported. In 2008 11,700 people presented themselves at Accident and Emergency Units in the south as a result of self-harming.
While suicide and self-harming are now better understood than before, and it is accepted that suicide victims and survivors should be treated with compassion and care, the fact remains that only a small proportion of the budget is devoted to mental health.
Mental Health remains the Cinderella of the health services. This needs to be rectified.
Suicide kills more people than road accidents but tackling it does not receive the same priority.
This is an example of the failure of the health system to properly manage and resource this vitally important issue.
One way of tackling suicide and self-harm, particularly at a time of recession, would be to provide for greater co-operation between the health services north and south.
The creation of a national – all-Ireland – Suicide Prevention Agency that brings together all of those bodies and strategies involved in this issue, and has effective and dedicated funding and resourcing, would also make a major contribution to reducing the numbers who die each year.