Alcohol or drugs have been detected in eight out of 10 suicides examined in a study of 121 cases in Cork over a six-year period, writes Cormac O'Keeffe.
The analysis is one of the first to compare young people (aged 15-24) and adults (aged 25-34) in terms of socio-democratic factors, substance abuse and method characteristics.
The study was conducted by researchers attached to the National Suicide Research Foundation in University College Cork, the university’s Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, and St Patrick’s Mental Health Services in Cork.
The study looked at 61 suicides of young people and 60 of adults between 2007 and 2012.
Toxicology tests showed that 80% of the total sample had used either alcohol or drugs at the time of the death.
The study, published online in the academic journal PLOSone, showed alcohol was found in toxicology tests of 52% of people.
It said the results did not reveal a significant association between alcohol and age among those who died by suicide — with similar rates between young people and adults.
“Approximately 50% of individuals who died by suicide had alcohol detected at the time of death,” said the report.
“This finding can contribute to informing governments and policy makers about suicide prevention efforts.”
The report said that more than 70% of young people and more than 60% of adults had a history of alcohol and/or drug use.
The survey found alcohol consumption among young people was more likely to occur during weekends and drinking “may exacerbate depression and depressive symptoms”.
It said: “Even though alcohol use is not the only risk factor for suicide, it increases disinhibiting thoughts and behaviour and depressive symptoms, impacting on the other risk factors for suicide. Therefore, alcohol use may increase the likelihood that suicidal behaviour will occur.”
The research called for programmes promoting positive mental health in education settings with the aim of increasing emotional competence and personal skills to cope with personal difficulties and stress.
“In addition, these programmes could specifically highlight how the use of alcohol and illicit drugs might increase personal difficulties, addressing the common myth that they help to reduce stress,” said the report.
Almost nine out of 10 young people were male and eight out of 10 adults were male. Just over seven out of 10 young people lived at home with their parents, compared to three out of 10 adults.
Almost two-thirds of adults lived with a partner and/or children. Some 35% of adults were unemployed, compared to 38% of young people.
The study also examined in detail the methods used in the suicide cases.
It said there was a “major public health challenge” in preventing the suicides, but, said that nevertheless “urgent actions are needed”.
Given the impact of reporting in this area, researchers called for closer collaboration with the media.
If you or someone you know has been affected by mental health issues you can contact:
Samaritans - 116 123 or text 087 2609090
Pieta House (Suicide & Self-harm) - 1800 247 247 or 01 623 5606
Aware (Depression, Bi-Polar Disorder & Anxiety) - 1800 80 48 48
Grow (Mental Health support and Recovery) - 1890 474 474
Bodywhys (Eating Disorders Associations of Ireland) - 1890 200 444
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.