April 9, 2009

CARL O'BRIEN, Social Affairs Correspondent

PRESIDENT MARY McAleese yesterday underlined the need to invest in suicide-prevention programmes to help deal with the anxiety, stress and depression caused by the economic crisis.

At a conference organised by the bereavement support group Console, Mrs McAleese said it was inevitable that debts and unemployment, or the fear of it, would take their toll on relationships and on mental wellbeing.

“We know that we cannot wish these things away. They will be very real in their consequences, for research confirms what common sense tells us – that following job-loss people report higher levels of anxiety, stress, depression, anger and loss of personal control and self-esteem.

“The national strategy for action on suicide, Reach Out, clearly identifies the need to support the development of services and programmes for unemployed people to help increase resilience and reduce the risk of suicidal behaviour.”

Mrs McAleese said health authorities, civic society and voluntary organisations all had a crucial role to play during these difficult economic times.

“[They] will be invaluable in helping all of us find the strength and imagination we need to get through this tough period to the better days we know we are capable of creating between us.”

About 500 people die from suicide each year in Ireland, with some experts predicting this number will increase significantly as a result of stress and depression linked to the recession.

While Ireland’s overall suicide rate is relatively low in European terms, the proportion of young men taking their lives is among the highest in the EU.

Mrs McAleese also warned that the link between suicide among young males and increases in alcohol abuse should be “setting off alarm bells in every home, school, street, peer group, community and across our country generally”.

The President also spoke against homophobic bullying of young people in schools and in the community. She emphasised the need for society and parents to protect young people from these negative experiences.

Also speaking at yesterday’s conference, Dr Justin Brophy, vice-chair of the Irish Association of Suicidology, said there was a vital need for a “whole community” response and to build resilience among people at risk of suicide.

He said unemployment on its own does not cause an increase in suicide. Rather, a lack of support plays a much more important role. “There is no reason to panic, but there is every reason to be prepared and to galvanise ourselves to look after those at risk.”

Console’s national helpline for people bereaved through suicide is 1800 201 890

This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times