The lingering need to shore up the suicide support sector

There are a staggering 252 charities working in the area of suicide prevention in this country, writes Claire O’Sullivan

These range from big players like the Samaritans and the now-notorious Console to small community groups like Dunfanaghy Family Resource Centre in Donegal and the Ballyfermot Advance Project in Dublin.

That suicide prevention is at the heart of communities is little wonder, given that suicide rates here are traditionally high and that the number of people taking their own lives accelerated notably during the downturn. Overall, there were 458 such deaths in 2007; by 2009 this had jumped to 552 and to 554 in 2011. In addition, Ireland has long ranked among the worst countries in Europe for suicide rates among men aged 15 and 26.

Those working in the sector say some of the small players can be little more than a Facebook page that offer mental health support or a so-called ‘mom and pop organisation’ set up in memory of a loved one to offer a listening ear. They are all doing different things in different ways to meet their different aims. This isn’t necessarily always a bad thing, especially when it’s a community meeting its needs in a way that works. But there are parts of the country with scant support, others with a glut of competing groups.

The lingering need to shore up the suicide support sector

Six years ago, the Irish Association of Suicidology (IAS) began to make the Department of Health aware of the need to implement basic standards across this fragmented sector. It commissioned the University of Ulster to complete a €30,000 study on how to introduce an accreditation programme for voluntary suicide prevention organisations. The IAS said the introduction of quality standards to the sector would bring “credibility” to affiliated members and “give the public confidence in the service they contacted”.

IAS president, retired Fine Gael TD Dan Neville, warned suicide prevention charities must have integrity as “it’s a subject that people respond to instantly as it’s so emotionally loaded”.

“If you have 252 different charities, you are bound to have some people who will try to misuse the charity for their own purposes,” he said.

Six years later, there is no sign of it.“The department was initially behind the idea but six years later, nothing has happened,” said Mr Neville. “As recently as last week, the department mentioned it at an annual meeting but no action has been taken.”

Yes, the Charities Regulatory Authority has been set up with its emphasis on corporate governance, but quality of service remains an unknown in the smaller schemes.

A spokesman for the National Office of Suicide Prevention said funded agencies are regulated under the governance requirements attached to the grant aid agreement and service level agreement conditions. However, we saw how these were disregarded and undermined by Console.

The lingering need to shore up the suicide support sector

It said that its Connecting for Life strategy includes plans to develop standards and guidelines for statutory and non-statutory suicide prevention organisations.

Six years ago, those plans existed too. But, vulnerable people and their families are being put at preventable risk if such projects aren’t expected to operate to minimum standards. Will it take another scandal for action to be taken?

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