Self-harm rates - ‘Suicide by economic crisis’ is real

Over the past three years, Ireland has had one of the highest suicide rates in Europe, especially among young people.

Some 165 young men and teenagers took their own lives in this country in 2011, but the phenomenon is certainly not confined to the young.

The rate of suicide in Ireland, Italy, and Greece is being recognised as reaching epidemic proportions. Some European newspapers have begun writing about “suicide by economic crisis”.

President Michael D Higgins told a conference at Croke Park on the eve of World Suicide Prevention Day in September that the economic crisis was creating “new insecurities for people” and was generating “additional distress on people in relation to unemployment, poverty, and particularly in relation to mortgage distress”.

Paul Kelly, the chief executive of Console, the national suicide charity, warned the conference that the “real” suicide rate in this country is significantly higher than the official level, because many deaths are still not being properly classified, because of the stigma surrounding suicide.

A recent study of 275 suicides and 32 open verdicts returned by coroners in Co Cork, found that almost half (48.6%) of the male victims worked in construction, while 39.5% of the men under 40 were unemployed and 29.4% had engaged in drug abuse. The figures included 13.2% working in agriculture, and 8.9% in sales and business, while students comprised 8.2%. Slightly over a quarter of the 61 women studied worked in healthcare.

There was over a three-fold increase in the number of calls to Console’s Farm and Rural Stress Helpline in the past six months — up to 5,267 calls from 1,316 in the previous six months. The fodder crisis in March and April put a huge strain on the farming community, but Console also believes loneliness is putting acute pressure on single farmers living in rural areas.

The broad spread of the figures suggests that pressure is being felt right across the community, and there is an obvious need for more Government intervention. All too often, the public service has been blaming the economic downturn for its inability to act, but there is no basis for that excuse in relation to suicide.

Last year, the HSE’s National Office for Suicide Prevention (NOSP) failed to spend more than a quarter of its €7m. This was blamed on administrative problems, including leadership changes.

There were three different directors of NOSP during 2012. Gerry Raleigh, who took over as national director towards the end of the year, noted that changes led to “slippage in terms of plans and implementation”. NOSP should not be blamed for not squandering its budget, but serious questions again must be asked about the overall direction of the HSE.

Is there no end to its ineptitude?

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