HSE suicide prevention officer, Martin Ryan, issued the call yesterday during a meeting of a multi-agency taskforce called following 10 deaths by suspected suicide in Cork city since October.
The meeting heard that Pieta House Cork has seen a more than doubling of its caseload in recent weeks — rising from 40 cases a day to almost 100 — following a spike in the city’s suicide rates.
Mr Ryan said the HSE is in the final stages of preparing a co-ordinated suicide prevention plan for the region, which aims to reduce suicide rates by 10% within five years. It should be submitted to the National Office for Suicide Prevention next week. Pending feedback, it is hoped to launch the plan by March.
“This is a great opportunity for everybody to get behind a co-ordinated plan. It will be one plan, one strategy, with everybody singing from the same hymn sheet,” he said.
Sinead Glennon, the HSE’s head of mental health for Cork and Kerry, said it would involve a targeted approach to those vulnerable to suicide, with increased awareness and promotional activity around bank holidays, with support and helpline numbers displayed consistently across the city.
Prof Ella Arensman of the National Suicide Research Foundation revealed details of the last major suicide cluster, which devastated the Mayfield and Glanmire areas of the city between September 19, 2008, and October 1, 2011. In that time, 21 men aged between 14 and 34, including 15 who were known to each other, died by suicide. Three close friends took their own lives within an eight-month period.
She said improved analysis in the wake of that cluster led to the identification of two clusters of male self-harm in the Cork area in early 2011. One of those clusters led to the emergence of a suicide cluster nearby in the second half of the year.
She said funding has just been secured to improve real-time tracking of the estimated 11,000 annual cases of self-harm which present at hospital emergency departments, in the hope that the early identification of self-harm clusters will help target interventions sooner with the aim of preventing the emergence of associated suicide clusters.
However, she warned that responding to these kinds of incidents is not an issue for a few weeks or months, but needs to be sustained for years.
The meeting heard from representatives of Breaking the Silence in Cobh, which has trained some 7,000 people in suicide intervention and prevention programmes, and about the www.justbreathe.ie initiative.
Lord Mayor of Cork Cllr Des Cahill, who chaired the meeting, invited the taskforce to meet again in late January to discuss ways forward.
You can get help and support from the HSE South’s 24/7 freephone suicide prevention helpline: 1800 247 247, from the Samaritans on 116 123, or from www.pieta.ie