Console chief executive Paul Kelly made the claim during a Croke Park conference ahead of today’s world suicide prevention day.
Speaking at the launch of the event, organised by the charity to highlight the reality of suicide in Ireland, Mr Kelly said progress has been made in addressing the stigma around the issue.
However, Mr Kelly said that until the true level of suicide in Ireland was accurately recorded, countless people will continue to be at risk of falling through cracks in the health service.
“Ireland needs to establish a true database of all probable suicides,” said Mr Kelly.
“At the moment, due to inconsistencies in deaths being correctly attributed to suicide, we do not have an accurate picture of what is happening in Ireland, and we feel that the real suicide rate is significantly higher than that published.”
Official reports from the HSE’s National Office of Suicide Prevention, published last week, said 495 people died by suicide in 2010 — the latest available — down from 506 in 2008.
However, when undetermined deaths for 2008 and 2010 were taken into account (83 and 123 respectively), rates rose from 589 deaths to 618.
The issue has been highlighted previously, but Mr Kelly said it needs more attention, adding that a separate category of “likely” suicides may need to be developed in order to more accurately assess the mortality rate in this country.
Speaking at the same conference, Sharon McDonald of the University of Manchester said there was a clear need for health service workers to receive further training on spotting the signs of someone considering suicide.
Dr McDonald, a specialist in mental health and associated risk, said as many as one in five people who attend a hospital, with symptoms that suggest a suicide risk leave without being seen by a medic.
A number of high-profile cases mirroring the claim have occurred in Ireland in recent years, resulting in devastating consequences for the families involved.
While Dr McDonald did not specify particular incidents, she said it is imperative that all medical and, crucially, non-medical emergency department staff receive training in identifying people at risk of suicide before an incident occurs.
Among the key speakers at the conference, which heard up to 1m people die from suicide worldwide per year, the equivalent of one death every 30 seconds — was President Michael D Higgins, who said the ongoing economic crisis was creating “new insecurities” for people.
While declining to comment on the recent death of former Priory Hall resident Fiachra Daly, Mr Higgins said: “Certainly in Ireland, at the present time, there is a great deal of additional distress on people in relation to unemployment, poverty, and particularly in relation to mortgage distress.”
Other presentations at the conference included one focusing on the impact of a masculine culture on suicide levels and significant improvements on rates in Scotland.
lMore information is available at www.console.ie. Console helpline: 1800 201890.