There were at least five suicides on a recent black weekend for Galway – underlining a senior Garda’s (police officer) warning that this is now the single biggest threat facing communities across the west of Ireland.

Superintendent Gerry Roche, in Ballinasloe, said that there is an epidemic of suicides that is ravaging families in Galway City and county, and he warned there is a need for societal change to tackle the problem.

“The problem is not going away,” said Roche, one of the founders of Galway East Life Support (GELS), which was set up last year to tackle the problem.

“Suicide is the biggest single issue facing every community in the west of Ireland. The number of people that have contacted us in GELS in the past year in relation to the problem is just phenomenal.  It’s a huge problem.”

The suicide problem that devastates communities was brought into sharp focus two weekends ago with a total of five tragic deaths in Galway, including two in Connemara, one in the city, one in north Galway and one in south Galway.

Last year, a total of 31 people took their own lives in Galway. According to the official Garda statistics, so far this year, there have been some 22 suicides recorded.

Roche said depression, loneliness, loss of hope, financial pressures and rural isolation were among the contributory factors in the surge in suicides. He said that often consumption of alcohol can be a contributory factor.

Roche said that, even though the evenings are getting brighter, it doesn’t necessarily brighten the mood. “There’s a perception that with longer evenings people are happier but that’s not always the case and obviously people are struggling, even at this time of year,” he said.

“The problem of suicide needs to be highlighted. We are looking for a societal change; we have to change minds and the approach and the stigmatization,” added Roche.