Saturday, 19 March 2011

Bill Clinton, Ireland, Suicide and Sobering up.

When reaching for a hand to help you up, be careful whose hand it is.  In the week that Enda Kenny was making space in his diary for President Obama's Irish visit, Bill Clinton decided to visit some home truths on an annual gathering of Irish Americans.  Once again the old charmer hit the button, though this time not with flattery but with the sombre reflection that Ireland's economic crisis showed how 'a little arrogance' can carry 'the seeds of its destruction'.  Irony on ironies that America's first black president is lending credibility to the man from Mayo, and that any ex-President of the USA would lecture on the dangers of arrogance.

Nevertheless it's painful to think back to the days of Ireland boasting a 'world-class' everything and anything, when in reality Ireland is now world-class in some pretty ignominious areas, including debt, illiteracy, lack of transparency or equality, alcohol consumption and, as Clinton discussed with candour and feeling, one of the world's fastest growing suicide rates.

This last caused Clinton to reflect, as many others have, on the damaged psyche of a country in deep trauma.  Durkheim, father of sociology, began with a study of suicide that showed it to be not a random act of individual despair but a consequence and a measure of deeper societal failures.  On Irish suicide figures, Kate Holton wrote for Yahoo News in February that 'traditionally, Ireland has had a high rate of suicide among young people, but an increasing number of middle-aged men are killing themselves.  More than 500 suicides were recorded in 2009 -- a 24 percent increase from 2008 -- and many suspect the real number is much higher. More Irish people now commit suicide than are killed on the country's roads'.

It's a short stretch to view endemic alcoholism as a similar measure of national trauma, and this was clearly not far from Clinton's thoughts when he borrowed the language of sobriety to say “somehow, we need to help our friends there not just to recover but to keep their heads on straight while they are recovering.”  There is a clearer link between suicide and alcohol in recent research, a typical example being the October 2009 Lancet study which found that 'an association between unemployment and increased suicide and homicide also found increased deaths directly from alcohol abuse. The missing link is that concurrent alcohol intoxication could be a factor in as many as 65% of suicides'.  This makes tragic reading in our current predicament, and even more reason to heed Clinton's call to 'scrape away the barnacles which have clouded the vision of the place we love.”'

Irish Central  Irish Times The Lancet Yahoo News

1 comment:

  1. Excellent article by Conor O'Clery on Global Post on suicide, alcohol and recession: 'Ireland - Suicide Deaths Skyrocket'