Research by the National Suicide Research Foundation (NSRF) found that between September 2008 and March 2010 there were 18 deaths by suicide in one area. Links between the deaths were only uncovered after interviews carried out by a special research team, the Suicide Support and Information System (SSIS).
The work of the pioneering project has all but ceased in recent months, however, due to a discontinuation of €75,000 in HSE funding.
Under the scheme, researchers make contact with families through the coroner’s court and gleaned an insight into the lives of those who died. They found that the young people involved were strongly connected to their peers and less connected to their families.
The researchers also identified a “subgroup of families” with severe psychosocial problems in which multiple family members had taken their lives. The team stayed in contact with families for up to one year following the inquest and sometimes beyond, depending on the level of support required by the families.
Labour senator John Gilroy, who has worked as a psychiatric nurse in Cork for 20 years, said it was very disappointing that a proven and potentially life-saving initiative was not going to be funded in future. Mr Gilroy, from north-east Cork, said he is personally aware of up to 50 deaths by suicide in the last four years in certain areas of Cork.
An independent report carried out on the work of the SSIS, seen by the Irish Examiner, reveals that the cluster data from Cork was presented to the Department of Health last year.
Dr Ella Arensman, director of research with the NSRF, said the response to such startling information from key stakeholders had been “disappointing”.
The report, by a British expert, notes that the department would not have known about the cluster and emerging clusters, but for the work of the project.
The report, written in September 2010, notes that in August 2010, a “contingency plan” was introduced to try to counter the expected loss of funding at the end of last year.
However, the report warns that “in these circumstances” no commitments can be given to bereaved families that ongoing support in the medium to long-term can be provided.
Further, no new interviews are being carried out with families of the deceased, the document says, even though there have been 21 suicide cases identified by the coroner since the contingency plan came into effect in August 2010.