If the same amount of funds were put into suicide prevention strategies and mental health issues as into road safety measures “we would have a fair greater chance of reducing the number”, according to a jury foreman at a coroner’s court where 10 out of 14 recent inquests were suicides.
And Wexford coroner, Dr Seán Nixon said: “Years ago you had more road accidents at inquests, but road deaths dropped to around 230 last year, probably due to road safety campaigns aimed at reducing speeding.”
At Wexford Coroner’s Court in February, 10 of 14 inquests concerned suicides. At the end of the lengthy coroner’s court sitting, jury foreman Fergie Kehoe said the number of suicides being heard in the court was increasing each time the court sat. He suggested that an increased level of out-of-hours mental health services would help prevent some of these tragic deaths.
Dr Nixon said there was a need for additional services, adding: “There are maybe 500 to 600 people dying each year from suicide.”
Describing suicide as a mental health problem at the “end spectrum of depression”, he said many people did not want to talk to their GP about it but preferred to pick up the phone and speak to someone anonymously.
“But quite a number of people are fairly determined [to take their own life]; it’s rarely an impulse gesture and there isn’t a common denominator or thread.”
CSO figures for 2011 show the number of recorded suicides in Ireland increased by 7% to 525 in 2011. Dr Nixon said the Catholic concept of suicide being a mortal sin was not as relevant to people today.
“Murdering yourself was the next worst thing to murdering someone else and it was considered a mortal sin. If you thought you were going to a darker place it was a disincentive for people. It’s not long ago when suicide was a criminal offence and would put you outside the Church. These stigmas have gone. Also it was a shame on your family. Now people don’t see it as committing a crime.
“It’s acceptable for young people that this is a way of dealing with a problem now. A lot of counselling today is to take it away from being an acceptable way of dealing with problems.
“There is a tendency to blame the health board but it comes right down to an individual’s family and the need to be observant and to watch out for friends who are vulnerable.”
He said even then it was extremely difficult to monitor someone who was suicidal as they could bounce back and seem to be happier, but this was only because they had come to a decision in their minds to end their life.
Dr Nixon said: “There are very few young people going to school who haven’t had a relatively close friend who has committed suicide. Anyone young who has committed suicide; it seems to be almost a glory thing. They are looked up to rather than anything else.”
He also said some deaths by misadventure may well be suicides, but sufficient proof was lacking, so they were not recorded as such.
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