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Focus should be on depression not media in Irish Minister’s suicide -- Deep seated issue of depression and suicide needs full exploration

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Shane McEntee RIP (Photo - AP)

We in the media business take our fair share of the blame for demonizing individuals and sometimes jumping to wrong conclusions.

But I think it is stretching it to say that media is responsible for the  suicide of a prominent politician as is being alleged in Ireland.

I knew Shane McEntee the Minister  of State for Agriculture who took his own life in tragic circumstances last week. I had met him on many occasions and he struck me as the prototype of a rural Irish politician deeply involved in his community and well liked and respected.

He was a man who had achieved an amazing amount in his too-short life and was clearly beloved as the massive 3,000 people at his funeral showed.

The reports in the media there say he was likely driven to suicide by the negative media coverage he received in recent months, as part of an increasingly unpopular government imposing more and more hardship on people.

I find it hard to believe that would have been the whole reason for his suicide however,
Anyone entering politics in Ireland knows it is a full contact blood sport where the real enemies, due to the electoral system, are far more likely to be in your own party than across the floor in the other parties.

Sure, there has been a coarsening in Irish life and the new media outlets including social media are relentless in their pursuit of individuals in attempts to bring them down.

But every politician I know either here or in Ireland factors in that issue and knows well that this week’s controversy is next week’s fish and chip wrapper and the carnival moves on.

They are able to separate the political from the personal and to understand that ,  irrespective of how intense political discussion and criticism becomes, it rarely has the power to impact to the horrific extent of suicide.

What I am saying is by definition, politicians have thick skins and are highly unlikely to be driven to suicide by headlines.

Long term depression is another matter altogether and it is clear all was not well with Shane McEntee for him to  have taken such a drastic course.

Whatever happened it is an unmitigated tragedy for him and his family. What hopefully it does do is  shine a light on depression and the causes of suicide in a country still remarkably reluctant to deal with an issue that has become  an urgent problem.

Perhaps that would be the best legacy of this tragic death that suicide and its causes become a major focus of the government he served so well and so proudly. That would be a fitting legacy for Shane McEntee if his death helped stop other suicides.

A witch hunt against Internet trolls on the other hand has no lasting value.

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