Friday, May 24, 2013

The devastation of suicide

Last Monday saw the publication of a report in Dublin by the 3Ts (Turn the Tide of Suicide) charity ‘Suicide in Ireland 2003-08.’ It makes for grim reading.

The charity was established in 2003 with the aim of changing public attitudes toward suicide, raising awareness, lobbying the Irish government on the issue, provide funding for research and for those groups working in the areas of suicide and self-harm, and to run a suicide helpline.

It is hugely critical of the failure of the government to develop and fund strategies on mental health and specifically around suicide prevention and awareness and self-harming, despite the increase in the numbers of people dying from suicide.

The report commissioned by the 3Ts charity looks at the issue of suicide within the southern state but many of its conclusions are equally applicable in the north. It found that the actual number of citizens dying by suicide each year is significantly greater than official figures. In 2011 government statistics revealed that 525 people died by suicide. The 3T’s report puts that figure at 722.

The 3Ts report also reveals the startling fact that one child under 18 years of age dies by suicide every 18 days! One in six people aged under 21 who died by suicide had experienced bullying. Young men under 21 are at four times the risk of suicide. And the Irish state has the fourth highest youth suicide rate in Europe and that rate is increasing.

The study also found that as many as half of all suicides occur in clusters, that is where a series of deaths take place in one location over a short period of time. And it identified the damaging and often fatal role played by alcohol in contributing to suicide in 50% of all cases.

The ‘Suicide in Ireland 2003-08’ report also described how families are left to cope with the trauma of suicide. Many of them report a negative experience with the Gardaí and frontline services in health and education. One family said that their son was ‘stitched up in accident and emergency. Given a month’s prescription and sent home.’

Another family explained that the person who found his best friend dead by suicide was then held by the police for six hours.

It is very clear that Irish Government’s strategies to tackle suicide are not working.Suicide prevention is under resourced and there is insufficient training for those in the frontline in health, in education, and in the Gardaí who have to help those at risk or those who have been bereaved.

The report made a number of important recommendations. It called for mental health literacy; that is bringing intensive suicide intervention programmes into schools and communities for young people in their early teens.

It argues for an ‘early detection Adolescent Depression Screening programme … a real time monitoring of teen and young adult suicide … with a particular focus on a greater understanding of suicide clusters in young people and how best to modify them.’

The report also calls for the ‘mandatory upskilling and monitoring of all workers in statutory authority who interface with young people to eliminate the possibility of bullying/victimisation or humiliation of young people by such authorities … a deeper understanding of the role and culture of alcohol and its consumption in teens and young adults …’

The impact of suicide across the island is dreadful. In the north in 2011 289 people died from suicide. The six counties has seen a doubling of suicide since the start of the century placing the area in the top quarter of the international league table of suicide rates.

When you combine the figures 2011 saw over 1000 citizens die as a consequence of suicide on this island.

The figure for road deaths for the same period was 186 for the south and 59 for the north. A total of 245 deaths or approximately a quarter of the suicide figure.

Despite this huge gap in deaths suicide does not secure the same level of investment and resources that is put into safety on the roads.

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 relatively small proportion of the budget is devoted to mental health.

Mental Health remains the Cinderella of the health services. This needs to be rectified.

The reality is that there is an island wide - national emergency –in respect of suicide and it requires an island wide national response.

I believe that there should be an island wide independent suicide prevention agency – on the same lines as the Road Safety Authority in the south – bringing together the resources of each state under one over-arching agency to develop and oversee a strategy could reduce the numbers of suicide.

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