Speech by Mr. Tim O’Malley T.D., Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children at the First National Forum on Suicide Prevention

I would like to thank Geoff Day; Head of the National Office for Suicide Prevention for inviting me to address you here this morning at your first meeting of the National Forum on Suicide Prevention.

Suicide touches the lives of many people and is in every case a tragedy, both for the life that has ended and the family, friends and community left behind. Many of us will know someone who has attempted or completed suicide. It is a serious social problem. We cannot ignore or be complacent about the growing incidence of suicide and self-harm in this country. Preventing suicide and reducing the rate of suicide in Ireland is therefore an urgent public health issue, one that goes right to the heart of our efforts and policies to create a healthy, prosperous and socially inclusive Ireland.

Reach Out–A National Strategy for Action on Suicide Prevention, which was launched in September last, builds on the work of the National Task Force on Suicide (1998) and takes account of the efforts and initiatives developed by the former health boards in recent years. It was prepared by the Project Management Unit, HSE in partnership with the National Suicide Review Group and supported by the Department of Health & Children. In the preparation of the Strategy, wide ranging consultation took place, throughout the country, to draw on the experience, perspectives and ideas of the key stakeholders and interested parties. I would like to thank all those who took part in this process. This consultation process, combined with continuous monitoring of evidence and best practice, allowed the project team to take both an evidence-based and pragmatic approach in prioritising actions to be undertaken by the various agencies and groups in order to effect real change over the next 5 to 10 years.

The Report of the Expert Group on Mental Health Policy – A Vision for Change, which was published in January, also endorsed Reach Out and recommended that it should be adopted and implemented nationally.

The approach of the Strategy in Reach Out is a straightforward one. Four levels of action comprise the main body of the strategy i.e.

  • General population approach;
  • Targeted approach;
  • Responding to suicide; and
  • Information and research.

At each level, Action Areas have been identified and specific points of action have been identified to be implemented in three phases over the coming years.

A fundamental aim of the new strategy is to prevent suicidal behaviour, including deliberate self-harm, and to increase awareness of the importance of good mental health among the general population. Ongoing, quality, multi-disciplinary research will be an essential strand of the strategy and findings will be of greatest value where they can inform and stimulate action and service development. The Strategy identifies expected outcomes and sets targets which can be measured, monitored and revised. Continuous quality control and ongoing modification and improvement of the strategy will be central to its implementation.

At present, best international practice suggests that suicide prevention programmes should be developed on the basis of improving the mental health of the general population in combination with developing strategies for known high-risk groups. This new Strategy includes specific recommendations for action in relation to this area.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) will take a lead role in overseeing the implementation of the strategy, in partnership with those statutory and voluntary organisations that have a key role to play in making the actions happen. At Government level, an Interdepartmental Committee will be established with representatives of relevant Government Departments to advise on and provide support in overcoming any barriers encountered in implementing the strategy.

In this regard, many of you present here today will be aware that the National Office for Suicide Prevention, (NOSP) was established as a response to one of the actions in the Strategy for Action on Suicide Prevention (Reach Out).

The NOSP is responsible for

  • Ensuring the implementation of the actions set out in Reach Out
  • Coordinating suicide prevention activities across the country.;
  • Disseminating research and best practice and where necessary commissioning and supporting new research.
  • Consulting with those working to reduce suicide and those responding to suicide, to ensure their voice is heard in planning future suicide prevention initiatives.

An Annual Report will be produced by the National Office for Suicide Prevention, detailing progress in relation to the implementation of strategy actions in the previous calendar year, beginning with a report in 2006. This will provide an important tool in monitoring progress in meeting the priority objectives of the Strategy and in reporting on rates of suicidal behaviour, which it is hoped will be significantly reduced over the coming years.

The challenge of suicide prevention is now one of the most urgent issues facing society. Preventing suicide means influencing, in a corrective and constructive way, a person’s development and their own resources at different phases of life. Adolescence is traditionally viewed as a time of profound change when young people make the transition to adult status. This transition is not easy and for many young people is accompanied by levels of self-doubt, fear and stress. An important aspect of suicide prevention for young people will be to promote self-esteem and self-confidence and to ensure that they develop personal and social skills. Children and young people often need support in gaining control over their lives and coping with their problems.

As some of you may be aware contacts are taking place between my Department and the Northern Ireland Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and between the National Office for Suicide Prevention and the Health Promotion Agency in Northern Ireland to explore issues on suicide prevention which could be jointly actioned. Areas identified for joint actions include:

  • public awareness campaign on mental health promotion,
  • joint training and awareness packages; and
  • joint initiatives re engagement with media.

This forum being held today nature provides an opportunity for the exchange of views on developments in suicide research and prevention. It will highlight the high rates of suicide and the importance of good mental health and suicide prevention which presents a serious challenge to all interested parties tackling this growing problem. It is important to ensure that the public are informed about the high rates of suicide especially among young people and ways of preventing it.

In conclusion, I wish to reiterate that this Government shares the public concern about the levels of suicide in this country. We all have our part to play in helping those who may experience and face adverse events in life, and emotions and feelings so strong that they consider taking their own lives. We must aim to provide accessible, sensitive, appropriate and, where required, intensive support in a more comprehensive co-ordinated and cohesive manner.