September 8, 2009

CARL O'BRIEN, Social Affairs Correspondent

THE NUMBER of people dying by suicide in the State is continuing to decline slowly, but we are still struggling with one of the highest levels of youth suicide in Europe.

The national body charged with suicide prevention has welcomed the decline but says more work needs to be done to co-ordinate and develop suicide prevention services.

Latest official figures show the number of deaths by suicide fell to 424 in 2008 from 460 the previous year, part of a downward trend that has continued over the past five years. A total of 332 (78 per cent) of those who died by suicide last year were male, while 92 (22 per cent) were female.

The figures are being treated as provisional until all the deaths have been subjected to a coroner’s inquest.

Given the population growth over this period of time, the rate of suicide is now the lowest since 1993, when suicide was decriminalised.

Ireland now has the sixth-lowest rate of suicide in the EU among its total population However, we have the fourth-highest rate of youth suicide in the EU, behind Lithuania, Finland and Estonia.

While in the past, suicide was more common among older people, the frequency of suicide is now highest among people in their 20s. Men aged 20-24 are most at risk. In addition, there has been a significant increase in the rate of deliberate self-harm among young men.

Official figures show there were 11,700 cases of deliberate self-harm at hospital emergency departments last year, involving more than 9,200 individuals.

The biggest increase was among men (up 11 per cent), the highest rate since records began six years ago. There was a smaller increase among women (4 per cent). Almost half of all presentations were by people under 30.

Publishing its annual report for 2008 today, the head of the Health Service Executive’s National Office for Suicide Prevention, Geoff Day, welcomed the ongoing overall decline in suicide.

“These reductions in both actual numbers of suicides and the overall rate of suicide, give some cause for optimism that the actions being taken to prevent suicide at local and national level are beginning to impact,” he said.

Looking forward, he said a positive mental health campaign focusing on young people will be launched later this year, while two pilot projects aimed at supporting mostly young people who self-harm are under way.

Speaking at an annual forum organised by the National Office for Suicide Prevention, Minister of State for Mental Health John Moloney insisted that funding for suicide prevention would continue, despite the crisis in the public finances.

He said he was in advanced discussions with the Government over plans to raise some €700 million through the sale of lands used by psychiatric hospitals that are due for closure.

“This money will be ring-fenced for mental health and I’ll be naming the properties and where the money will go and what services will be provided,” Mr Moloney said.

The Government has announced plans on a number of occasions in recent years to reinvest money from land housing psychiatric hospitals into the mental health sector, but few of these plans have materialised.

Mr Moloney also said he would announce later this year a review of Vision for Change, the Government’s 10-year blueprint to modernise mental health services. “We’re now four years into the strategy and we need to see what needs to be done.”


This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times