Recession directly to blame for up to 560 suicides

Up to 560 suicides between 2008 and 2012 can be directly linked to the recession, according to a study that also blames a significant increase in deliberate self-harm on the downturn.

The findings are contained in a report to be presented to the Oireachtas Health Committee next week on suicide prevention.

It is the culmination of two years’ research carried out by a number of organisations in co-operation with Senator John Gilroy, the Oireachtas rapporteur on suicide prevention.

The senator, who is a qualified psychiatric nurse, said from 2008-2012, there was a noticeable increase in suicides and self-harming which he believes was directly linked to the economic downturn. He said it is estimated that between 305 and 560 people who came under increased pressure because of the recession took their lives.

The number of self-harm cases also increased noticeably. It is estimated there were 6,200-8,600 more cases than normal over that same five-year period.

The senator said it was clear the rise in suicide rates tracked the rise in unemployment.

In 2005, 2006, and 2007, unemployment rates stood at 4.3%, 4.3%, and 4.6% respectively. Suicide rates across this period even showed a slight decline.

However in 2008, when unemployment stood at 6.1%, suicide rates rose to 11.4 per 100,000 of the population. The following year the dole queues got even longer and suicide rose to 12.4 per 100,000.

“One study has shown that between 2008 and 2012, the number of suicides was between 305 and 560 more than would be expected if the pre-recession trend had continued.”

In 2006 and 2007, the rate of deliberate self-harm stood at 184 and 188 per 100,000 respectively. The onset of the recession in 2008 saw this rate increase to 200 per 100,000 of population, with a further increase in 2009 and again in 2010 to reach its highest level at 223 per 100,000.

During recessions, increases in suicide mainly occur in men, with particular rises in the 15-24 age group. This is seen as a consequence of the larger rates of job loss and unemployment in this cohort, especially in the construction industry.

Garda sources have also indicated they believe a number of fatal traffic crashes involving young men may have been suicides. In particular, some of these would have been single-occupant cars that crashed during the night.

Mr Gilroy said some suicides and deliberate self- harm increases could be tied into other generalised effects of the recession, including a reduction in services or access to services, reduction in benefits and financial hardship.

He said during consultations with suicide prevention groups, one of the commonly raised concerns was the number of suicides being underreported because they were being classified as deaths by other means, such as transport accidents, accidental falls, and accidental poisoning.

“There is some evidence that deaths classified as ‘events of undetermined intent’ may contain some deaths which might otherwise be classified as deaths by suicide, but fail to meet the legal standard of proof required at inquest.”

The report is to be published next Thursday.

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