Suicide

What are the suicide figures for Ireland?
Suicide is an increasing tragedy in Ireland. The official statistics show that there were 527 suicides in the Republic in 2009, a 24 per cent increase year on year. But another 200 deaths that year were of an undetermined nature. It is believed that the true suicide figure for 2009 was actually between 600 and 700 and of those 80% were men.

Suicide, like alcoholism, is known to increase at times of unemployment and even anticipation of unemployment. A letter authored by five specialists in public health, led by David Stuckler of the University of Cambridge published in the Lancet this July, notes a recorded annual increase in suicides in Ireland of 13% and comments that this is 'consistent with historical studies that show immediate rises in suicides associated with 'early indicators' of crisis, such as turmoil in the banking sector, which precipitates later unemployment,'. The data are still preliminary as Stuckler says, 'a reminder of the contrast between the substantial efforts expended by governments to collect up-to-the-minute financial data while health data lag by several years'.

Candle-lit vigil for turn the Tide on Suicide, Dublin 
On the same theme Brendan Walsh writes in his major report on unemployment and suicide in Ireland (see below) that 'there is some evidence that the suicide rate is being increasingly under‐reported in recent years'. Figures published by the Central Statistics Office this June for example record that '386 men and 100 women took their own lives in 2010', which as the Irish Times reports is 'an 8% drop on 2009'. But the same article acknowledges that 'researchers believe actual suicide rates are typically higher than official statistics as some people who take their own lives are classified as “deaths linked to undetermined intent” in official statistics'. No doubt for this reason, The National Suicide Research Foundation welcomes this apparent “levelling off” in the number of deaths but cautions that 'the statistics were still provisional and could change'.

How or why official figures can change is a mystery, but they may need to change in the light of The Lancet European study by Stuckler et al published on 7th July which compares suicide statistics across ten European states since the recession kicked in. Put neatly by RTE, 'Suicides rates rose sharply in Europe between 2007 and 2009 as the financial crisis drove unemployment up, with Greece and Ireland worst affected'. In 2008, suicides among people aged younger than 65 in the the other eight European states studied rose by 7% over 2007, but 'two of the worst hit economies' Ireland and Greece saw a rise of 13% and 17% respectively, according to the research.

Suicide and Alcohol
The link between alcohol and suicide is clearer. We already know from one Irish study of people who died as a result of suicide that more than half had alcohol in their blood, and in 2007 alcohol was a factor in 41% of all cases of deliberate self-harm. Now a confidential report into suicide and mental illness in Northern Ireland by Professor Louis Appleby published in June has found that "Of all the patients who died by suicide, 60% were thought to be misusing alcohol by their doctors. About half of these were alcohol dependent." Dr Uzma Huda, Vice Chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Northern Ireland, calling for a minimum pricing for alcohol, said: "We can no longer afford to ignore the growing trend linking alcohol and suicide, particularly in young people."  For a full report see the Gargle Nation article here.

Tragically 2011 is predicted to be the worst year yet, and alcohol is still playing its part as a study published in May by Professor Brendan Walsh of University college Dublin reveals.

The Influence of Alcohol and Unemployment on Suicide
Professor Walsh studied the relationship between unemployment and alcohol in Ireland and found that 'Alcohol consumption is a significant influence on the male suicide rate up to age 64'. Professor Walsh's findings suggest that higher alcohol consumption played a major role in the increase in suicide mortality among young Irish males between the late 1960s and the end of the century. Unemployment is also 'a significant influence on the male suicide rate in the younger age groups'. In the early twenty first century a combination of falling alcohol consumption and low unemployment led to a marked reduction in suicide rates, which is now sadly being reversed.  As Walsh concludes,
'the recent rise in the suicide rate may be attributed to the sharp increase in unemployment, especially among males'. His recommendations are clear: Increased taxation of alcoholic beverages is generally regarded as the most effective of  the available policies to discourage heavy drinking .... The close association between the level of alcohol consumption and the suicide rates among young males suggest that a reduction in consumption due to heavier taxation of alcoholic beverages would lead to some reduction in the incidence of suicide.  [The] relatively lenient tax treatment of alcoholic beverages over the last decade does not reflect the widely‐expressed concern about the high suicide rate among young people"
.  Read the full report


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The following is an excellent article by Conor O Clery in the Global Post followed by the Gargle Nation blog on Clinton's Patrick's Day remarks, which explore the subject further.  There are also links to helpful sites at the end of the page.

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An Overview of Suicide in Ireland 

by Conor O Clery Global Post, March 21st 2011. 

DUBLIN Ireland — One cost of the recession in Ireland is a surge in suicide rates, particularly among young men in rural areas facing a bleak future without work and laden with debt.  Since the end of Ireland's good times three years ago, the country's incidence of death by self-harm, already one of the highest in Europe, has risen by a quarter, according to official statistics. Some 520 people took their own lives in 2009, a 25 percent rise from the previous year, and provisional figures for the first quarter of 2010 show that just as many died last year.

President Clinton in Dublin

Almost everyone in Ireland it seems — and even occasional visitors like former U.S. President Bill Clinton — knows of a family where a member has committed or attempted suicide.  Clinton told an audience of Irish Americans at a St. Patrick’s Day function in New York about his own personal experience of the damage done to the Irish psyche by the financial catastrophe that has wiped out many businesses.  “The thing that has troubled me most, believe it or not, about this whole economic crisis in Ireland has been the rise in the suicide rate, not just among the young where it was already too high but among those in their prime working years who feel somehow that their whole lives have been robbed,” Clinton said.

“A good friend of mine was one of the young, phenomenally prosperous Irishmen, who took his life and made me think about this all over again,” he told an event organized by Irish America magazine in the New York Yacht Club.  The remarks by the former president, whose involvement in Ireland dates back to the Northern Ireland peace process in the 1990s, have resonated in a country where the extent of the problem is now a matter of national concern.  The stark statistics “only go some way towards conveying the devastation caused by suicide in communities the length and breadth of Ireland,” according to Angela Kerins, chief executive of RehabCare, a non-governmental organization dedicated to helping people achieve their potential.  “More people are dying each year by suicide than on our roads and suicide is now the biggest cause of death among young men in the 15-24 age group." 

Youth suicide in Ireland is the fifth highest in Europe, after Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Finland, according to the most recent study of the phenomenon, carried out by a joint committee of the Irish parliament in 2004.
The incidence of self-harm is highest in rural Ireland, with counties like Offaly recording twice the number of suicides as Dublin. The collapse of the construction industry has hit such counties hard, leaving developments of half-finished houses, empty retail parks and long lines at unemployment offices.  After examining at a Jan. 20 hearing five cases of suicide of young and middle-aged men, the County Offaly coroner, Brian Mahon said, “This is just an example of the rampant and really serious situation in Ireland, and particularly in rural areas.” The five cases included a 32-year-old carpenter and father of one facing repossession of his house and a 35-year-old single man with a drug problem.

With abuse of alcohol cited as a factor in four out of 10 suicides, a National Task Force on Suicide recommended in 1998 that drink should be made less available and more expensive; since then beers and spirits have become cheaper and more accessible. The official figures for suicide could be underestimated, this study concluded, as one in 10 road fatalities involving single occupant vehicles is believed to be a deliberate act of self-destruction.  The growing awareness of the problem of suicide in a country where it was once a taboo subject has meant that jocular or sarcastic references to suicide are no longer acceptable.

Ireland’s new prime minister, Enda Kenny, was so moved by the distress of a family he visited after a suicide that he has refused to appear on a popular television current affairs program since October when the host, Vincent Browne, said Kenny should take a bottle of whiskey and a gun and go into a dark room. Browne has since apologized.  A former prime minister, Bertie Ahern, was widely criticized for insensitivity when during the height of the boom in 2007 he said he wondered why those “cribbing and moaning” about a coming downturn did not commit suicide. He too has since regretted his remark.

Suicide rates in Northern Ireland have also risen sharply, especially among young people. Belfast was shocked at the end of January when an 11-year-old girl and a 13-year-old boy took their lives in unrelated circumstances within a 24-hour period.  Clinton feels so strongly about the epidemic of suicide that he is coming to Dublin on May 23 to launch the National Suicide Prevention Service, the first of its kind in Ireland, by RehabCare.  "Somehow we need to help our friends there not just to recover,” he said, “but to keep their heads on straight while they are recovering.”

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Gargle Nation March 2011

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.


Dubliner's Enjoy the Holiday

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.”'


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Suicide Information and Support

Suicide support services in Ireland are summarized and listed on the link here at the Citizen's Information website .

The National Suicide Bereavement Support Network also offers support and advice on its website.

Up to date research and information on suicide in Ireland is available from the National Suicide Research Foundation