We could lead way, says Anne

ANNE MURRAY, National President of the ICA, spoke in Wexford last week bout the issue of suicide and how the ICA can help to resolve the problem.

She said that the ICA's counselling service, while only a small part of national efforts being made to combat the problem, could be a role model for a more extensive scheme nationwide.

"When I was elected two years ago I spoke to you about our role as an important force in Irish society, especially at local level in our communities throughout the country. I want to talk again about this role, especially in the context of the incidence of suicide in Ireland, an issue I spoke about at the last Council meeting.

"I know that this is a particularly sensitive issue in Wexford because of the sad death of Sharon Grace and her daughters. an issue which arose recently in Wexford.

"As a national organisation of women I believe that it is a small gesture of remembrance that we spend some time thinking today about what we can do to make a difference. How can we play our part in the drive toward achieving a dramatic reduction in the numbers of people who are making the tragic decision to take their lives? It shatters families and communities, is often unexplained, and is nearly impossible for grieving families and friends to understand.

"Just a short number of years ago, even allowing for under reporting, suicide was the exception in our communities. In the 25 years between 1976 and 2001 the rate of death by suicide doubled. In the past five or so years the annual numbers of suicides has remained around the mid 400s 444 in 2003, the last full year for which figures are available. But this figure has even greater impact when we realise that it is the equivalent of at least one person ending their life by suicide every day and some 9 suicides each week.

"According to the CSO figures in 2003, the rate of death by suicide among men was more than four times that of women. Of particular concern is the huge increase in suicide among young men in the 15 34 age group, and the increasing rate in suicide in young women between the ages of 15 and 24.

"Those who have been touched by suicide in their family or community know that the questions that immediately arise are why? and how did I not notice? and what could I have done? But in the heartbreak we may also know that there were few signs, or none that gave us cause to be anxious.

"Certainly in my own experience it is the extra-ordinariness of suicide in what otherwise appeared to be very ordinary situations, that makes it all the more difficult. So what can we do to address this situation. As individuals I think we need to be able to talk about suicide and that is not always easy. But informing ourselves of what is known about suicide is an important start. We began that process at our last Council meeting when our Counsellor, Regina gave us some sense of the signs that might indicate that someone we knew was at risk. Our guilds may be the right places for this discussion to continue, and not just for ICA members but as part of wider community initiatives.

"Well informed, we can ask questions of policy makers and service providers as individuals, and through our Guilds and Federation. What is the quality of services in our communities? It is clear that information and preventative supports are vital. Services also need to be available around the clock, when people need them in a crisis situation. Since we know that attempted suicide is an indicator of risk, then follow up support and services in the community are also important.

"At national level I think that we must play a part in ensuring that services in this area are given proper priority and funding in the new Health Services Executive structures. We must identify clearly where responsibility lies, how services are to be planned and delivered, and how those services are to be monitored to ensure that they are of the highest quality.

"And within ICA we need to ensure that the small part our own counselling service might play in supporting families continues. We have no way of knowing to what extent we may have been able to support an ICA member or family member, who otherwise might have considered suicide, but I suspect we have. Our service is used when people face a wide range of difficulties and has proved its worth in the lives of individuals and families."

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