October 5, 2012

Key suicide prevention post empty as rate soars • Charity says vacancy is indicative of the lack of urgency with which Government is treating suicide by Catherine Shanahan The key post of director at the National Office for Suicide Prevention remains unfilled as figures show male suicide has rocketed by almost 140% in the past 30 years.

It is a year since director Geoff Day resigned and his replacement, appointed in July, stayed just three months in the job before being seconded to the Department of Health. Last month, the HSE expressed confidence a permanent director would finally be in place this month.

However, Martin Rogan, HSE assistant national direc- tor for mental health, yester- day conceded it was more likely to be mid-November before an appointment is made. Mr Rogan is curre- ndy acting in the post.

Noel Smyth, property developer and founder of suicide charity the 3Ts (Turn the Tide of Suicide) said the vacuum at the head of the NOSP was quite "telling" of the Govern- ment's attitude to suicide.

"It's really quite telling that they haven't appointed somebody yet given the level of concern and urge- ncy we believe this issue deserves," said Mr Smyth.

"The fact that the key person at the office has not been appointed is very worrying, and we would say that the Government needs to take the wholeissue of suicide a lot moreseriously." Mr Smyth has repeatedlycalled for the setting up ofa Suicide Prevention Au-thority modelled on theRoad Safety Authority.

Suicide prevention wasidentified as a key publichealth concern within theProgramme for Govern-ment. Geoff Day resigneddue to resource constraints,despite Health MinisterJames Reilly saying suicidelevels were a "priority forthis Government".

Last night, Mental HealthMinister Kathleen Lynchsaid she had made verystrong representations for areplacement to be appointedand she asked that therecruitment process bespeeded up.

"We had somebody whowe felt was eminently capa-ble and they were offeredthe job but they didn't wantit, so it wasn't from the wantof trying to fill it," she said.

In June, while openingthe Console Centre forSuicide Bereavement Coun-selling Services, in Swin-ford, Co Mayo, TaoiseachEnda Kenny said mentalhealth should not be viewedas "a sort of Cinderella areaof the services".

"It is so central and sosensitive to our communitiesthat it deserves the very bestfrom the Government andthat it shall have," he said.

Funding for the NOSPincreased by €3m this year,bringing its budget to justover €7m, half that of theRoad Safety Authority, eventhough far fewer lives arelost on Irish roads.

Figures from the NOSPannual report 2011 show552 deaths by suicideoccurred in 2009, a rateof 12.4 deaths per 100,000population. The figuremarks a record high.

Cork had the highest rateof 15.2 per 100,000 incounties with large urbancentres. Carlow had thehighest rate overall, at 16.7per 100,000, while the low-est rates are in Dublin andSligo respectively (both 8.9per 100,000).

Preliminary figures for2011 show 525 deaths dueto suicide.

Geoff Day: Quit in 2011 due to a lack of resources.