Speech by Dr Jimmy Devins, T.D., Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children at the National Office for Suicide Prevention’s 3rd Annual Forum

I am delighted to be here this morning and I would like to thank Geoff Day, Head of the National Office for Suicide Prevention for inviting me. I would also like to thank Dr. Tony Bates who will be chairing today’s sessions. As Geoff has mentioned we also have with us today a group from Kosovo who are here in Ireland to explore the potential for developing suicide prevention initiatives in Kosovo. I too, would like to extend a warm welcome to them and trust that their visit will be fruitful.

A forum of this nature provides an opportunity to meet and exchange views and to look at practical ways of tackling the issue of suicide to prevent the further tragic loss of lives.

In March 2005, President McAleese hosted the first Forum of this kind. One of the key messages to emerge from that Forum was that we need to harness the skills, passion and energies of those involved in current initiatives and perhaps even more significantly to increase our understanding of suicide as a society.

I am particularly pleased that the theme of this year’s Forum is “Young People’s Perspectives on Youth Mental Health and Suicide Prevention” and will focus on listening to what our young people have to say on this issue. There are many pressures facing our young people in today’s Ireland – pressures such as bullying, emotional distress, addictions, peer pressure and exam pressure. It is only by taking on board what our young people have to say that we can gain true insights into how those pressures can be alleviated.

The title of our national strategy for Action on Suicide Prevention “Reach Out” captures the essence of the message we need to convey when we talk of suicide.

We as policy makers, as individuals or organisations working in the area of suicide prevention need to foster a culture where people in distress, at whatever stage in their lives, won’t hesitate to seek help, a culture that recognises the signs and signals of distress and is willing to help, and that focuses early in life on developing good coping skills and avoiding harmful practices. The promotion of positive mental health along with early detection of mental ill-health is key to the personal development of our young people.

I welcome to the Forum the Young Social Innovators from St Joseph’s Secondary School in Rochfortbridge, Co Westmeath who are going to make a presentation this afternoon on ‘Feeling Low Let Someone Know’. In addition, a presentation being made on ‘Youth Mental Health in a Changing Ireland’ by Emma Farrell and Tim Smith, youth advisors with Headstrong – these presentations will help to inform the debate on mental health and suicide prevention.

Initiatives for your people like the work of the National Youth Health Programme are central in addressing youth welfare issues such as health and wellbeing. This partnership programme, which is operated by the National Youth Council of Ireland and funded by the Youth Affairs Section of the Department of Education and Science and the Health Promotion Unit of the HSE, provides a broad-based flexible, health promotion support and training service to youth work organisations.

It aims to promote healthy lifestyles and provides information and training on a number of areas including health education, alcohol, bullying, drugs, sexual health, nutrition and physical activity and mental health and suicide prevention.

The Programme has produced a number of resources on mental health promotion and suicide prevention including ‘Good habits of mind’ – a mental health promotion initiative for those working with young people in out-of-school settings. Training provided by the Programme to compliment this resource covers issues such as mental health, mental health promotion, referral, detection of mental health difficulties.

Mental health and education reform was the issue selected for discussion at the 7th Annual Dáil na nÓg, which is overseen and funded by the Office of the Minister for Children, on 15th February 2008 in Croke Park. Their recommendations included:

•The need for accessible youth cafes in all areas, to provide a safe space to seek help on drug and alcohol issues and other problems;
•A positive advertising campaign that shows real life experiences and the effects of suicide on family and friends;
•More funding for mental health services for young people, including advertising and school programmes.
•Compulsory drugs and alcohol awareness education in all secondary schools, provided by specially trained teachers with guest speakers.

Thirty-four delegates have been elected to the Dáil na nÓg Council to follow-up on these recommendations. I welcome all these discussions and debates on mental health issues as they identify possible future initiatives and make young people more aware of looking after their mental health.

A fundamental aim of ‘Reach Out’ – the National Strategy for Action on Suicide Prevention 2005-2014 is to prevent suicidal behaviour, including deliberate self-harm, and to increase awareness of the importance of good mental health.

A target of a 10% reduction in suicide by 2010 has been agreed with the National Office. In addition, a target of a 5% reduction in repeated self harm by 2010 and a further 5% by 2016 has been set.

I recognise the many challenges that lie ahead and I am aware that there are no easy interventions that will guarantee success.

In conclusion, I would like to congratulate everyone involved in today’s forum and to wish you well with your deliberations. I am grateful for this opportunity to honour the vital work that you and the many, many other individuals and groups in our society do in the cause of suicide prevention.