Just weeks after the head of the National Office for Suicide Prevention Geoff Day warned an annual figure of more than 500 deaths would be a “national disaster”, the Central Statistics Office confirmed the 2009 total was 527, up from 424 the previous year.
However, experts say the figure could be far higher. An additional 195 “deaths by undetermined intent” were recorded by the CSO, a high proportion of which may have been suicide.
Mr Day said the latest figures reflected international evidence that during an economic downturn suicide numbers increase.
“The scale of the increase between 2008 and 2009 is most concerning,” he said.
“Of particular concern is the fact that the main increase in suicides is in the 25 to 44 year age group. This again is in line with the international research.”
The spike in suicides last year was the highest annual rise in a decade, with indications that the figure in 2010 will be higher still.
International Association of Suicide Prevention president Dan Neville said there are a number of county coroners who are either very slow to bring in a verdict of suicide or who simply refuse to bring in such a verdict. He also pointed to the 195 “deaths by undetermined intent” recorded in the CSO statistics released.
“I am extremely concerned at the level of undetermined deaths which, in some countries, are recorded in the suicide statistics even though the person is not recorded as having committed suicide,” he said.
“The figure of 195 would be seen as especially high by international and domestic suicidologists.”
He called for a re-examination of the criteria used to decide on a suicide verdict in the coroner’s courts.
Mr Neville said while he understood coroners’ sensitivity towards the feelings of the families of suicide victims, a failure to record suicide where applicable “does not give full knowledge to the prevention campaigners, researchers and the Government”.
Mr Neville also said one had to take into account the number of deaths each year for which no evidence of suicide is apparent but which might have resulted from people trying to take their own lives.
Paul Kelly, head of Console which offers support to the families of suicide victims as well as those contemplating taking their life, said his organisation had noticed a huge increase in demand for its services.
“We have got waiting lists for people to access professional counselling and support. This increase does not come as a surprise to us. We have noticed on our 1Life helpline for those in suicidal crisis, that there has been a huge increase in the number of people who are finding the impact of the downturn of the economy quite a strain with job losses, financial worry, fear of house repossession and marital strain. They feel a great sense of hopelessness and can’t see a way out.”
He said he would not be surprised if the rates of suicide increased further when the next statistics are released.
* 1Life suicide helpline 1800 247100