THERE HAS been a 26% increase in the number of Irish people taking their own lives during the recession, in a trend that mirrors an increase in suicide after the Wall Street crash of 1929.

The Dáil needs to have an urgent debate on suicide and the government should not stand idly by, according to one leading mental health activist.

Dan Neville, Fine Gael's mental health spokesperson and president of the Irish Association of Suicidology, has raised the issue in the Dáil and requested the urgent debate but his calls have been futile to date.

Speaking to the Sunday Tribune, Neville said: "I am disappointed that I have been refused a debate on the increase in suicides for the first three quarters of last year.

"There was an increase from 279 on the previous year to 354 last year, representing an increase of 26%. The government must recognise and respond to the new situation."

He pointed out that the banking crisis and economic collapse created a sudden gap between material needs and resources. People are increasingly frustrated in economic downturns as an increasing proportion of people cannot realise their financial goals.

"This frustration can increase aggression including suicide," Neville said. "Research published in 1967 found that the absolute value of change in the stock market process was associated with an increase in male suicide rates during 1929 to 1940. This confirmed the position that economic change downwards in the business cycle increases suicide."

A number of other studies have shown a clear link between unemployment and suicide rates, especially among males.

"All studies show higher rates of ill health, both psychological and physical, in men and women who are in insecure work or are unemployed. A protracted period of unemployment seems to have a particularly deleterious effect on the mental health of young men, regardless of their social background."

Neville has called on the Minister for Health and Children Mary Harney, and the HSE, to be more proactive in responding to changes in society that will lead to higher suicides and mental illness problems.

While raising the issue in the Dáil, Neville asked for society to recognise the special circumstances of the bereaved by suicides, who experience "a sense of stigma, shame, loneliness and rejection".

He also stressed the need for the government to resource suicide prevention programmes and suicide bereavement counselling.