It should “make us weep” that social media is being used to bully vulnerable young people who could become suicidal as a result, according to President Michael D Higgins.
Cyberbullying, suicide, and depression are growing problems in this country, he said, and urged every citizen to be aware of these issues and to speak up about them.
“I read last week the results of a survey which said that one in four Irish teenagers have been victims of cyberbullying, compared to one in five teenagers across the other 10 countries in the same survey. That should make us weep, the idea that a means of communication is being used in such a fashion and it has to be addressed,” he said at the Irish Association of Suicidology’s annual conference in Naas, Co Kildare yesterday.
“That’s a disturbing find, highlighting one of the many issues that must be addressed in this country. Our figures are so much worse than other countries. We must not simply aspire to eliminate bullying, we should just end it, and end it now.”
President Higgins also talked about the “clear link” between austerity measures and high rates of suicide.
“There’s an association between economic factors and the rate of suicidal behaviours which should warn us, particularly at the present time. We simply cannot ignore the rise in suicide in recent years which in part comes from the fear, anxiety and sometimes despair that stems from economic crisis,” he said.
“It is when you cut back services, and at the same time you have high levels of unemployment, and an increase in poverty the people that will be at risk will be vulnerable people who are placed at additional risk. There’s clear a clear link between a rise in unemployment and higher levels of suicide, particularly among young males.”
He said while the country has “huge ground to cover” before our suicide rates improve, conferences such as this one are important and serve to foster “open and wide-ranging discussion” on the issue.
“It is our duty as citizens to alert ourselves to the circumstances in which we live and it is our duty as citizens and members of the community to seek to safeguard young people and to be aware of the factors that are putting them at risk of taking their own lives.”
Dr Noel Richardson, director of the Centre for Men’s Health at the Institute of Technology Carlow, also spoke at the event, discussing the issue of self-harm and suicide in young males.
“The suicide rates of young men, as recorded, are just the tip of the iceberg,” he warned, and said a lot more men are self-harming than anyone realises.
Self-harming is often seen as a “female issue”, he said, but this problem is now presenting in “a growing number” of men.
“Self-harm is the strongest predicator of suicide that there is, but the vast majority of self-harm in young people does not come to the attention of a professional,” he said.
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