Speeches

Address by Mr. Micheál Martin TD, Minister for Health and Children at the launch of the leaflet Concerned about Suicide and launch of the 2000 Annual Report of the National Suicide Review Group in Dublin Castle

Introduction

I am delighted to have been invited here today to launch the leaflet “Concerned about Suicide” and also the Annual Report of the National Suicide Review Group for 2000. I would like to begin by saying how pleased I am to have the opportunity to join in launching this leaflet with my Northern colleague, Minister de Bruin. An event such as this is testament to the importance that the Health Boards and the Suicide Review Group place on the issue of suicide prevention. The co-operation of the Resource Officers with their colleagues in Northern Ireland is encouraging. It is important to seek ways to promote cooperation and benefit from the sharing of ideas and expertise. The publication of this leaflet provides important information for families and friends of people suffering from suicidal thoughts. It highlights the commitment and dedication of all those involved in the area of suicide prevention. This leaflet is invaluable in not only helping to provide support for those most vulnerable in our society but also in heightening awareness of the warning signs which are associated with suicidal behaviour and the services that are available to help the individual to overcome the crises of life.

Suicide

A suicide is a tragic and shattering occurrence that not only brings a life to an untimely end but also has a devastating impact on family and friends. The number of registered suicides has fallen for the past two years from 504 in 1998, to 439 in 1999 and 413 in 2000. It is, however, too soon to draw any conclusion from that reduction due to natural statistical fluctuations. What these figures do indicate, however, is that no effort can be spared to reduce what is a major cause of death, particularly among young people. With greater understanding of the nature of the problem, in particular greater awareness of suicide warning signs and through the work of the individuals and groups such as those represented here today, the number of suicides can be further reduced.

In order to understand why people commit suicide, we have to take into consideration the individual’s character traits, coping abilities, social support and life events. We also need to understand the social origins of individual emotional problems. In the early childhood of people who have committed suicide, we quite often find broken homes, separation and divorce, loss of one or both parents, rape and sexual abuse, incest, domestic violence, alcohol abuse by parents, exam and peer pressure and other adverse life events.

There is evidence that suicide victims have experienced more of these traumatic events than others. It is clear that stability in social relations and healthy cultural attitudes towards emotional problems are needed in the fight against suicide.

Suicide Prevention

The challenge of suicide prevention is one of the most urgent issues facing Irish society.

The key components of the overall strategy aimed at reducing suicide include the implementation of measures aimed at high risk groups, provision of information and training on suicide prevention to relevant professionals and organisations and the improvement of services which would benefit those at risk of suicide and those who attempt suicide. Health boards, in particular, have a major role to play in co-ordinating efforts to help reduce the level of suicide and attempted suicide in this country.

Since the publication of the report of the National Task Force on Suicide in 1998, there has been a positive and committed response among both the statutory and voluntary sectors towards finding ways of tackling the tragic problem of suicide. Additional funding of over £2m has been made available by my Department since 1999 for suicide prevention following the recommendations of the National Task Force on Suicide. This year £830,000 has been allocated towards suicide prevention programmes in the health boards and towards research aimed at improving our understanding of this disturbing social problem.

The health boards have worked extremely hard to implement the recommendations of the Task Force Report and through the appointment of Suicide Resource Officers engage in the promotion of positive mental health and the de-stigmatisation of suicide. They also provide information in relation to suicide and parasuicide, liaise with the media and provide training requirements for staff in relation to all aspects of suicide and parasuicide.

I recently launched the Southern Health Board´s strategy “Targeting Suicidal Behaviour” which is an example of the commitment being shown by health boards to implementing the recommendations of the Task Force.

My Department recognises the importance of early intervention and positive mental health and also the important work of voluntary agencies who work hand-in-hand with the statutory agencies. The Department of Health and Children has supported and developed many initiatives over the past number of years in the area of mental health and particularly in relation to suicide prevention.

Report of the National Suicide Review Group

As you are aware, the National Suicide Review Group was established by the Health Boards in 1998. Membership of the Group includes experts in the areas of mental health, public health and research. The main responsibilities of the Suicide Review Group are to review ongoing trends in suicide and parasuicide, to co-ordinate research into suicide and to make appropriate recommendations to the Chief Executive Officers of health boards. It is very fitting that this Group are also launching their annual report here today. This report provides an update on the work of the Group and the progress which has been made and continues in the area of suicide prevention throughout the country.

The Annual Report 2000 has three basic aims. Firstly, it provides background to, and a progress report on, the work of the National Suicide Review Group. The emphasis of the work is on co-ordinating and monitoring the various activities in suicide research and prevention. This involves liaison with health boards in particular but also with other voluntary and statutory agencies.

The report also outlines the varied and wide-ranging initiatives for which funding has been provided from the £100,000 which my Department made available on foot of the Review Group’s recommendation in 2000. The projects fall into three main categories – Prevention, Intervention and Postvention and I appreciate the significant time and effort which went into the selection process. I very much look forward to the end results.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I would like to pay tribute to all involved in the production of this leaflet and the Report. The hard work, effort and dedication of all those involved is to be complimented. I am confident that the work being undertaken by the Resource Officers in the Health Boards together with the Suicide Review Group will continue to have a positive impact and further reduce the number of suicides. Finally, I thank you once again for inviting me here today.