Using the term “blood and treasure” President Barack Obama described the war in Iraq as exceptionally costly. Tens of thousands of Iraqis were killed in a conflict which cost the US a Trillion dollars. During this period, the US military lost 4,484 young men and women in combat.
During the same period, from 2003 to 2011, Ireland lost 4,408 young men and women to suicide. Let me say that again. The US — with a population of 300 million — lost 4,484 men and women in combat in the war in Iraq. During the same period — with a population of just 4.6 million — Ireland has lost 4,408 men and women to suicide against the backdrop of our national banking and financial crisis.
These figures for suicide in Ireland are based on conservative estimates compiled by the National Suicide Research Foundation of Ireland and the National Office of Suicide Prevention. As Ireland enters another year of austerity, the numbers dying by suicide are increasing. By Christmas morning, another 10 Irish men, women and children will have died by suicide. In the present economic climate, one Irish person dies by suicide every 17 hours. Some of them are as young as 11 years old.
The impact of the current financial and banking crisis on the people of Ireland has a human dimension. I would urge economists and politicians — particularly the more strident among them — to incorporate the reality of human suffering and fear into their analyses and policy positions. Given that the current rates of suicide satisfy the government’s own definition of a major national emergency, the Taoiseach ought to reverse all de-facto cuts to our front line mental health services. Health Minister James Reilly should immediately and decisively end the moratorium on recruitment to our mental health services.
Aside from front line health workers, charitable organisations such as Pieta House are proactively engaged in suicide prevention and intervention. Pieta House are currently assisting 5,000 people in crisis. Everyone reading this letter will have been affected by suicide to some degree or another. Irish citizens need to support groups like Pieta House, Aware and Console in order to combat the soaring human costs of the current economic crisis.
Dr Tom Clonan
School of Media