Recent studies in Ireland have found that the reporting of suicides in the country are largely inaccurate and under-reported by coroners. With this data, it is evident that the stigma attached to death by suicide is still rampant in Ireland, hampering efforts to bring the problem to light.
The Irish Independent reports on two stories today in regards to suicide. One details how the Travelling communities in Ireland have fallen victim to numerous deaths by suicide, while the other reports that coroners in Ireland are failing to accurately report suicides in hopes of sparing families of the deceased some shame.
"Travelling people, they just commit suicide and that's the end of the story. If you catch him, you cut him down, and if you cut him down they go back and do it again. They keep on doing it and keep on doing it until they succeed in doing it," said Jimmy Connors to The Independent.
“Mind you, I often thought about it from time to time but I always got over that hurdle. A lot of Travelling people are very private people, they don't like talking: it could be money problems, father and mother problems, and a lot of problems created in their own head. Me personally, I wouldn't express my feelings to nobody. I wouldn't even express my feelings to my wife,"said Connors in the documentary ‘Unsettled: From Tinker to Traveller,’ which airs on RTE One tomorrow night.
The Independent reports that nearly forty years ago suicide in Travelling communities was next to unheard of. Today, however, a man from a Travelling community is six times more likely to die from suicide as compared to a settled man.
In another investigation, The Irish Independent reached out to every coroner in Ireland in hopes of attaining accurate suicide figures for 2011. While some chose to be forthcoming, other denied comment. The figures that were delivered to The Independent varied across the country, signaling that there is under-reporting is rampant.
The Independent came to find that on average, 36 percent of all inquests land on suicide as the verdict of death.
Dublin City and Cork City coroners were found to have the lowest rates of suicide with 9 percent and 11 percent respectively. However, The Independent attributes these lower rates to “to the high number of cases that come before their courts and the myriad different cases as both are in jurisdictions that contain major hospitals.”
Alternately, Wexford Coroner Sean Nixon delivered a staggering figure of 52 percent of cases being a result of suicide.
"I don't get much pressure from families,” said Nixon. “I bring in the verdict that I think is the correct one. I don't think that the stigma is there surrounding suicide anymore. We need to get to the stage where if it is a suicide it gets reported as suicide.”
While Nixon may believe the stigma surrounding suicide is nonexistent, the data points elsewhere.
The Independent goes on to report that “it seems most coroners are widely recording open verdicts that illustrate a death in medical terms in order to avoid using the word suicide or if they are in fact unsure whether the person died by suicide.”
One coroner, who wished to remain anonymous, said to The Independent that he would avoid the term ‘suicide’ in a verdict as to not “leave a stain on the family".
Similarly, Offaly coroner Brian Mahon said he would also be reluctant to use the word suicide in a verdict and instead points to the medical evidence.
"I don't tend to use the word suicide in a verdict, but it would be clear that it was self-inflicted. I tend to stick more to the medical evidence, such as death by self-inflicted gunshot wound or death by hanging but the verdict would be clear,” said Mahon.
"Families tend not to lobby anymore, but it used to happen years ago. Now, I sometimes have families approach me worried about publicity and if their son's name is going to appear in the newspaper, but I have no control over that.”
The issue is becoming so serious that conversation surrounding the inaccuracy of suicide figures has been brought up in the Dail.
Fine Gael TD Dan Neville, who is also president of the Irish Association of Suicidology, has been campaigning for mental health rights for nearly 20 years, and played a significant role in the decriminalization of suicide in 1993. Neville criticizes coroners who do not accurately report suicide findings, as in doing so, they’re failing to help bring the national problem to light.
"It is obvious that some coroners want to protect families from the trauma of suicide but we need accurate figures on a national level to deal with this problem,” said Neville.
“In other countries, such as Scotland, undetermined deaths are recorded with suicide figures, which I think gives a much more accurate reflection," added Neville.
"The stigma surrounding suicide has changed, but it has a massive way to go. The stigma that is there is not assisting the public discussion into why we have so many suicides in this country.”
While some are calling for a set of standards to be placed upon coroners in reporting of death verdicts, the Coroners Act 1962 prevents it.
A spokesperson for the Minister of Justice said "Given the independence of coroners, as provided for by the Coroners Act 1962, the development of standard operating procedures for coroners would not be appropriate."