Suicide investigation - A tragedy we must all confront

THE Ryan Report was published five months ago.

It is not an understatement to say that it brought great shame on us all.

It re-opened old wounds and indicted this society for tolerating the most appalling abuses and violence.

It removed forever the possibility that we could say that we didn’t know what was done in our name.

It told us more about ourselves than we might care to hear. Anyone with a heart or a conscience could not but have been moved. Many of us were moved to tears.

We took some comfort in the idea that it could not happen today and that, as a society, we have advanced to the point that such abuses would not be tolerated.

We took comfort — refuge more likely — in the notion that vulnerable members of this society would never again be abandoned as the children of the past were.

How naive we were.

Today we publish the results of an extensive investigation into suicide. It describes a deep layer of terrible tragedy that stretches right across this community. It reflects on the unimaginable, the terribly painful impact the suicide of a loved one can have on family and friends.

It relates truly inspiring stories of the strength and the undying love of those left behind. One woman, Phyllis McNamara, describes the loss of her husband Michael, as being like “surgery without the anaesthetic”.

Another report describes communities afraid to talk about the crisis they cannot seem to overcome no matter how united or determined they are. Another describes the great pain endured in silence by so many people affected by suicide.

It describes too the unjustified sense of shame and isolation felt by some of those bereaved. This is a consequence on an age-old culture of misplaced guilt that must be confronted to help those in its grip.

So much of the tragedy the investigation uncovers may be avoidable and the myriad support groups working in the area invest huge emotional capital in trying to help share the burden of those involved.

There is too a report on the decades-long litany of broken promises by politicians.

As Conor Ryan reports “few topics unveil the malignant paralysis in Irish politics like suicide”.

There have been disagreements over suicide numbers making it easier to push the crisis into the background. Unsurprisingly, but nevertheless depressingly, there has been report after report, focus group after focus group.

Then Health Service Executive was established and politicians were able to wash their hands of the scandal, referring all queries on the issue to the ultimate, unaccountable quango. The inaction, the stifling bureaucracy and the escalating crisis ran a direct parallel to the great abuses and scandals that led, finally, to the publication of the Ryan Report last May.

A perfect but shaming microcosm of this lack of commitment was seen just last Saturday when the Greens voted on a “renegotiated programme for Government” which mentioned badgers, mink farming and stag hunting but made no reference to the way in which the mental health budget has been slashed.

In an irony that will hardly be surpassed anytime soon last Saturday was World Mental Health Day.

Even before the current crisis funding for mental health services was terribly inadequate, especially for services concerned with adolescents.

Mental health services have been heavily hit by cutbacks. Development funding of €2.8 million was committed in 2009, representing an 87% reduction since 2007. Capital Funding has also been reduced by 71% compared with 2005 figures. Similarly, funding for suicide prevention was cut by 12.5% earlier this.

However, we are not powerless in the face of this tragedy. There is much we can do, we can become aware of the arguments and options that might encourage someone in the grip of despair to try again to stabilise their lives. We can listen, we can offer sincerity and sympathy. We can offer real support to those who have been affected by suicide. Sometimes, even making a phone call can make a difference.

We can take note of the findings of a HSE survey published just yesterday that found that young people believe isolation is the biggest threat to mental health.

But most of all we can recognise that suicide is an entirely human though tragic response to inhuman pain and suffering. If we can learn to alleviate that pain we might be able to save the life of a loved one.

If we do not our children will read another Ryan Report, except this time it will be about preventable suicides rather than child and sexual abuse.

More in this section