STORIES of families struck by suicide were brought into the public arena yesterday as politicians were urged to push for a national research programme into people taking their own lives.
The Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children yesterday heard how there was a vacuum of information on the reasons behind rising death numbers and clusters of young people deciding to end their lives.
TDs and senators heard how one project had tracked the grieving families of 104 suicide victims and offered them a platform to vent their emotions through the arts.
Professor Kevin Malone from St Vincent’s University Hospital said the research had brought the loss from the kitchen tables of bereaved families to the public arena.
But the research leader said: “We (Ireland) are in a complete knowledge vacuum. How can we put together an action plan when we don’t know what the problems are and just know the numbers [of deaths].”
Research on 98 of the victims found that almost half had never made any suicide attempt previously. Most had hung themselves and nearly half had died at home. More than one-in-10 of the victims had been part of a cluster of suicides in an area. Furthermore, almost half of the victims had no Leaving Certificate.
The results of the research with bereaved families also found that some who had taken their own lives had been victims of bullying or assault, while a portion also had relationship break-ups one month before killing themselves.
A public exhibition led by co-researcher and artist Seamus McGuinness had used images of suicide victims on cloth, allowing grieving families to touch the shown faces of their loved ones.
One mother whose son featured in the exhibition told TDs how the arts initiative had helped families mourn.
Liz McCormack, from Meath, told how her son Robbie, 26, had hung himself while in Chicago in late 2006. The use of images and art had helped her and her family, she said.
TDs were moved after watching a video of the Lost Portraits exhibition.
Fine Gael’s Dan Neville said it was difficult to challenge the amount of money being invested in suicide prevention.
But Prof Malone said that in Finland the rate of suicide had only dropped over a decade after the country had interviewed some 1,798 families affected by it and discovered the causes.
He called for an audit of all suicide help services and for a funded national research programme. He added: “Silence hasn’t served us very well on this issue. I don’t see a lot of signs that society cares for young people’s lives. In fact, families are saying the opposite.”
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