Rural suicide rates - Loneliness is at root of these deaths

A SECOND county coroner yesterday rang the alarm bells about escalating suicide rates in rural areas.

The coroner for Kerry South, Terence Casey, reiterated the concern expressed by Offaly’s acting coroner Brian Mahon last week when Mr Mahon said that a “really serious situation” was developing in Ireland.

Yesterday, Mr Casey pointed to a trend that suggests social isolation and loneliness are at the root of a surge in the numbers of older people taking their lives.

He suggested that this sense of being abandoned was caused, in part at least, by the closure of traditional centres of social interaction — the local pub, the post office and a huge range of small, community-based businesses.

Of course there are other reasons but there is a challenging ring of truth to Mr Casey’s remarks. It is disturbing too that the conditions that might cause someone to take their own life are entirely of our own making. Some of these deaths must be attributed to our new puritanism surrounding even the most restrained cases of drinking and driving.

Laws that make perfect sense in Dartland are a recipe for isolation and depression in remote areas no matter what some dismissive and sneering voices argue. There must surely be a way to make our roads safe without driving lonely, isolated people to suicide.

Contrary to perception most of those people who are so very unhappy that they cannot see a future are older people. Of the eight verdicts of suicide handed down in south Kerry last year, more than a third of them — three — involved people between the age of 50 and 60. As some of last year’s cases have yet to be finalised, that ratio may grow.

The age issue, as well as retirement or redundancy, has also been raised in relation to suicide by one of the very many organisations working in the field, Campaign Against Suicide (CAS). Spokesman Shane Maher warned that older people or those who have recently retired can be overlooked as a risk category for suicide.

CAS suggest that we underestimate the impact such a tremendous change in routine can make.

That change comes with a sudden and often complete end to the social interaction most people enjoy at work. A reality of life is that very many people rely on work colleagues for support and friendship and when that relationship ends or is weakened, a huge void and the consequent loneliness is created.

To add to the sense of disappointment surrounding the issue, mental health campaigner John McCarthy points out that there are no services for people who need emergency assistance. He said the website of the national suicide office tells you to contact the Samaritans, your local doctor or go to a hospital.

“There is no one who can come out and help a person in need. You are lucky if you get a voice at the end of the phone. If it is late at night you probably won’t even get that,” he warned.

This society and the incoming government face many daunting challenges and suicide and its many troubling issues is another that just won’t go away.

We must do more and we cannot rely on government to do it because a large part of the solution to this crisis lies in the communities where these troubled, tortured people struggle through life but towards and unnecessary and premature death.

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