The CSO’s assistant director general, Steve McFeely, said there was a danger that too much was being read into relatively small changes in suicide rates.
He was commenting on a draft report on suicide by Labour senator John Gilroy at yesterday’s meeting of the joint Oireachtas committee on health and children.
“While I appreciate that members of the public may perceive the incidence of suicide in Ireland to be increasing, the data does not support this perception,” said Mr McFeely.
From a statistical perspective, he said there was no evidence to suggest there was under-reporting of suicide.
“If you look over time, the numbers are generally quite stable and the patterns are not dissimilar to what we see on a standardised rate across Europe and across neighbouring countries.”
However, because the data was volatile, a different conclusion could be reached, depending on the time span. “The CSO takes an agnostic view — we are just compiling the data but people do need to be cautious about where they start and end their analysis.”
The vice-president of the Coroners Society of Ireland, Cork City coroner Dr Myra Cullinane, said coroners held the best primary source of statistical and other information in relation to deaths by suicide.
While the verdict in any particular case might not reach a standard where suicide could be recorded as the cause of death, the file would show whether or not there were issues like drug addiction, marital breakdown, homophobic bullying or cyber bullying.
She said the society would strongly support a yearly analysis of the files every year. “There is a fount of information there,” she said.
The director of research at the National Suicide Research Foundation, Ella Arensman, said she supported the proposal made in Mr Gilroy’s report that a survey of coroners’ records be conducted to establish which deaths might be attributable to suicide but did not meet the legal standard of proof required at the inquest.
She contended, however, that she had established that there had been an increase in the rate of suicide during the recession.
That analysis was conducted using a three-year average rate of suicide over a 10-year period, including the recession period. “Even looking at the smoothed out analysis, we still find a significant 4.5% increase in suicide from 2007 to 2011.”
Using the National Registry of Self-Harm, it was found there had been a 30% increase in male self-harm.
“In the 25 years working in this area, I have never come across such an increase in male self-harm anywhere,” she said.