May 28, 2009

BARRY ROCHE, Southern Correspondent

IRISH COUNSELLORS and psychotherapists dealing with suicidal people are not being given adequate specialised training to assist them and instead are having to learn as they go, according to a leading international expert on suicide.

Dr David Jobes of the Catholic University of America told The Irish Times that dealing with suicidal people should be included as a standard part of all mental health training programmes for those working in the area of counselling and psychotherapy.

Ireland was no different from the United States in this regard but it was surprising that no particular training programmes for dealing with suicidal people are included in mental health training, given suicide can feature in several mental disorders, he said.

Dr Jobes explained that he had asked the 100-plus clinicians attending the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy Southern Regional Annual Conference in Cork how many knew someone who had died by suicide and virtually everyone indicated that they had.

“Yet, when I asked them how many had been specifically trained in nursing programmes and professional training programmes in graduate school and medical school to assess and treat suicidal people, only one hand went up – it’s crazy but it’s not unique to Ireland.

“When I speak in Ireland, at best maybe 5 per cent will have had curricular training in their professional training programmes and we’re the ones who are to protect the suicidal person from themselves,” he said.

Dr Jobes said while most clinicians learn about dealing with suicidal people by experience – and experience can be a good teacher – it did seem strange that there was no training provided to deal with people who are contemplating suicide given that it is such “a pervasive presentation”.

“Why isn’t it just a natural part of a psychology training programme? It should be a standard part of mental health training and it’s not and it makes no sense – it’s emblematic of these disconnects of the pervasiveness of suicide and of people acting as if it’s not a problem.

“Suicide cuts across a dozen major psychiatric disorders, not just depression – it’s associated with anxiety, substance abuse, schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder – all of those disorders often have a suicidal component. It’s treatable but people often don’t know how to treat it.”

This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times