Speeches

Tim O´Malley TD, Minister of State at the launch of the first Annual Report of the National Parasuicide Registry

Introduction

I am delighted to have been invited here today to visit your office and to launch the first Annual Report of the National Parasuicide Registry.

I understand that the National Parasuicide Registry is a national system of population monitoring for the occurrence of parasuicide. The work of the Registry provides information on the general characteristics of people who attempt suicide. It provides a better knowledge of suicidal behaviour and specifies trends in parasuicide over time and in the different regions of the country. The analysis of this general information will be useful in the development of policies and the implementation of measures aimed at preventing suicide. The Registry is also very useful in the process of allocating resources. It helps identify groups which are particularly vulnerable and will assist health boards to evaluate the impact of the preventative and clinical services being provided.

The Report being launched here today contains data on episodes of parasuicide over a twelve month period in four of the health boards – Midland, Mid-Western, South Eastern and Southern – and data for a six month period in the North Eastern Health Board. This data is further analysed in the report on the basis of methods used, time, gender and age. All this information is essential for those involved in suicide prevention programmes.

National Suicide Research Foundation

The National Suicide Research Foundation was founded in January 1995 by the late Dr Michael J Kelleher. It consists of a multi-disciplinary research team with contributions from a broad range of disciplines including psychology, psychiatry and sociology.

While the bulk of the Foundation´s work to-date has involved the monitoring of parasuicide I understand that you are involved in many other areas of work including, the carrying out of in-depth interviews with individuals who have engaged in parasuicide in order to identify the social, psychological and psychiatric factors associated with suicidal behaviour. On a yearly basis, data relating to every suicide and undetermined death registered in Ireland is sent to the Foundation by the Central Statistics Office. This data is analysed so as to produce up-to-date age-specific and age-standardised rates with respect to demographic variables. These statistics are also provided in response to the numerous requests the Foundation receives from professional bodies, students and the public for information relating to suicide.

I am aware that due to the Foundation´s reputation for high quality research, it has been invited to participate in several important international studies, and is the Irish centre in the WHO/Euro Multicentre Study on suicidal behaviour. This is a great achievement.

Suicide

As we are all aware, suicide has become a serious social problem; however it is not confined to Ireland but is a growing global problem. Figures published recently by the Central Statistics Office indicate that there were 448 deaths from suicide in 2001. These figures are disappointing in that they indicate an increase of 35 on the 2000 figure. This increase however, highlights the need to intensify our efforts and to put additional resources in place for suicide research and suicide prevention programmes.

My Department has asked the National Suicide Review Group to examine the 2001 suicide figures in the context of the trends over the past few years and to prepare proposals for further action by health boards and service providers in this regard.

Suicide is in every case a tragedy, both for the life that has ended and the family, friends and community left behind. Through information from relatives, it has become clear that most people who committed suicide had long-lasting emotional problems such as depression, anxiety, unhappy relationships, alcohol and drug-related problems, unemployment, feelings of loneliness and guilt, problems with relatives, and so on.

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.

I note from a previous study, carried out by the Public Health Departments of Health Boards, 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.

The ability of people, especially young people, to cope with life is a crucial factor influencing their health, particularly their mental health. People are often at a loss to understand why somebody they loved would take their own life. The “Why” factor is a central theme, never fully knowing why the person, especially a young person, would commit such a tragic act. What is clear is that people in crisis should not be left without help or support.

Suicide Prevention

The Health Strategy “Quality and Fairness A Health System for You”, includes a commitment to intensify the existing suicide prevention programmes over the coming years. The Government is fully committed to ensuring that further investment takes place in this area.

The new Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 2001 provides that the Minister for Health and Children will make a report each year to each House of the Oireachtas on the measures taken by health boards in the preceding year to address the problem of suicide. The third annual Report of the National Suicide Review Group was recently published complying with this provision. The aim of the Report is to facilitate the sharing of information across the health boards and other sectors regarding suicide prevention projects and to provide accurate and current information on the patterns of death by suicide in Ireland.

Promoting Positive Mental Health

The challenge of suicide prevention is now 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. Support is also needed for voluntary organisations dealing with people suffering from depression, mental illness and bereavement who are at risk of suicide and attempted suicide.

Research is a essential element of prevention. Research defines choices, informs options and is important in order to determine which measures would be of benefit in helping our understanding of and our response to suicide and attempted suicide.

A key factor in suicide prevention is the promotion of positive mental health. Mental illness has traditionally been a hidden illness that people were embarrassed to talk about. We are all aware of the pressures on young people such as bullying, emotional distress, addictions, peer pressure and exam pressure. We often tend to think that people are weak if they suffer from anxiety, depression, inability to cope, or have suicidal tendencies, but it is widely acknowledged that one in four women and one in ten men will experience depression during their lifetime. Many of these people are successful people, role models, celebrities whom we all know.

The promotion of positive mental health will contribute significantly to combating the ignorance and stigma which often surrounds mental illness and will also be effective in the area of suicide prevention especially among young people. This enables people to talk about their feelings and emotional problems and to seek help without fear of being labelled a failure.

Funding

Almost €5m in total was provided over the years 1999 – 2001 for suicide prevention activities following the publication of the Report of the Task Force on Suicide. This year an additional €1.11m is being provided for suicide prevention programmes in the health boards and towards research aimed at improving our understanding of suicide and parasuicide.

Conclusion

I would like to pay tribute to the National Suicide Research Foundation for their hard work, effort and dedication involved in undertaking this research. Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all those associated with the Foundation continued success in their endeavours and I look forward to the 2002 Report.