There were 486 confirmed suicides in Ireland in 2014, compared to 487 in 2013. Provisional data for 2015 and 2016 suggests a decreasing trend. There were 399 suicides last year, compared with 451 in 2015 and 554 in 2011, according to provisional figures.
Those figures may be greeted as good news by statisticians, but one suicide is still one too many and behind the headline figures lies the heartache for families and loved-ones.
As the assistant national director for the NOSP, John Meehan, put it:
“This downward trend is a step in the right direction, but we must not forget that every death by suicide is a tragedy and has a devastating impact on families and the surrounding community.”
There is hardly a family in the country that has not been affected by the tragedy of suicide, and it is overwhelmingly men who take their own lives.
The age group represented the most in the statistics were the 45 to 54-year-olds, but we must not forget that Ireland has one of the highest rate of suicides amongst teenagers in the EU.
A report released during the summer by Unicef, the UN’s children’s arm, revealed that Ireland’s rate for teens losing their lives by suicide is above the international average.
The report also linked suicide and mental health issues among teenagers with income poverty.
Unicef Ireland’s chief executive, Peter Power, described it as a wake-up call, asserting that, despite economic recovery and the idea that the consequent rising tide will benefit everyone, it is clear children are experiencing real and substantial inequality and we risk leaving them behind.
What to do about the tragedy of suicide, whatever the age group it affects? It is essential, in the first instance, to have accurate and up-to-date figures. The HSE acknowledges that there is a two-year wait for figures to be confirmed, as the deaths have to be determined by a coroner and this can take some time to process. Improving that situation must be a priority.
Only then will the HSE be able accurately to assess the level of resources needed to stem the tide of suicide. According to Unicef, services are inadequate in many areas and
policy change is badly needed.
It is vital that the HSE ensures that its health care professionals receive adequate training in how to assess, manage, and treat suicidal individuals.
Suicide education and prevention must go hand in hand with that and involve not only health professionals, but also experienced educators, community activists, and charities that work on suicide prevention.
Most importantly, we must not forget to call on the help of individuals and families bereaved by suicide.
We can learn from the resilience and fortitude that many people exhibit in the midst of great personal loss. This, in turn, may inspire those with suicidal thoughts to choose life over death.