We can conclude then that Ireland has a problem. But what is being done about it? Who, apart from Donal Walsh, Des Bishop and 3Ts, has spoken out, tried to do something?
Console, the national suicide charity, is backing some of the recommendations made in Dr. Malone’s report. They are especially interested in his call for the creation of a real-time database for teen and young adult suicides.
“We need to find out why these trends are happening, but the figures we have are provisional when what we need is accurate and timely data,” says Ciarán Austin, Director of Services with Console. “We need significant changes and investment in research, as the lack of accurate information is impeding our ability to understand and respond to the awful tragedy of suicide. If we could identify trends and clusters, this would help agencies and services to understand the specific problems and, hopefully, to respond sooner.”
Aware, an organization that provides support, information and education about depression and related conditions, takes the view that the threat of suicide is increased in times of recession.
“There may be an increased sense of hopelessness for the future in challenging times like this,” says Aware’s Sandra Hogan. “This can impact especially on people who may already be vulnerable.”
Aware are calling on the government to increase funding for mental health services. “They need to be more widely available and more accessible,” says Sandra. “There is also a need for a sustained positive awareness campaign highlighting mental health, how to look after it and the sources of support that are available.”
Recognizing that the national budget may not be able to stretch to such services and campaigns, Sandra also emphasizes peoples’ personal responsibilities. In what could be seen as a retort to the Lundbeck Mental Health barometer findings, she says that mental health needs to be normalized. “People need to be able to talk more openly and responsibly about it,” she says. “This would ultimately help people to find it easier to reach out for the help that is available when they need it.”
If that’s what mental health organizations would like to see the government doing, what are they actually doing at the moment? The National Office for Suicide Prevention (NOSP) is in charge of the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of “Reach Out” – the national strategy for action on suicide prevention 2005-2014. In this ten-year plan the NOSP is working with more than 50 agencies and organizations nationwide.
“Partnership is the foundation to effective suicide prevention work in Ireland,” says Michelle Merrigan on behalf of the NOSP. “Suicide prevention is best achieved when individuals, families, health and community organizations, workplaces, government departments and communities work collaboratively to build an infrastructure of suicide prevention and support from local through to national level.”
In 2011 (the last year for which information has been collated), the NOSP had several key achievements. They allocated more than $1million extra to 22 new projects including training programs for frontline medical staff and improving intervention services for people who engage in suicidal behavior. They developed “Your Mental Health,” a campaign involving radio advertisements and a website that focussed on the importance of good mental health. And they also started work on responding to suicide clusters and developing national guidelines for post primary schools on mental health and suicide prevention.
However, their work has only just begun and in the meantime, organizations such as Console and Aware, academics such as Dr. Malone and committed individuals such as Donal Walsh and Adam Harris are trying to fill the gaps.
Eighteen-year-old Adam from Greystones in Co. Wicklow designed the GraspLife phone app after witnessing the effect of suicide on his own community. His app enable users to find help in their locality quickly by bringing together all contact details for organizations such as Aware, The Samaritans and Console.
Adam is currently in talks with Three (one of Ireland’s largest mobile phone providers) about pre-installing the app on all new handsets.
“People are embarrassed to talk about mental health with their friends and they don’t know where to go,” says Adam. “I wanted a resource they could use discreetly that had all of the information from Ireland’s largest charities in one place.”
The statistics show that Ireland has a suicide problem. A cursory glance at the figures implies that we compare favorably with other EU countries but in-depth investigation belies this. Irish men and particularly young Irish men have a higher risk of suicide than those in other countries, and more needs to be done to address this at an official level.