'Counselling is relatively unregulated and that is the problem. People should go to trusted sources'
A warning has been issued about some services offering suicide and mental health counselling which are not vetted and may be unsafe.
The HSE's National Office for Suicide Prevention said people in distress should avoid these services, because counsellors may not be fully trained or not basing their counselling on best evidence.
Director Gerry Raleigh advised people to check out a service in advance, and only attend the organisations and agencies which were endorsed by his office.
He said a list of these services was available at GP surgeries, and would also be featured on a new information website to be set up later this year. It comes as stark statistics show that 10 people a week are dying as a result of suicide, leaving families and communities in devastation.
The budget for the National Office for Suicide Prevention has risen by 8pc, giving it €8.8m this year. "Counselling is relatively unregulated and that is the problem. People should go to trusted sources and have a healthy scepticism," Dr Raleigh said.
He was unable to name any of the questionable services, but said that some were advertising and the office was aware of them anecdotally.
"There are around 300 to 400 organisations involved in the suicide-prevention sector. Small groups can come together locally in response to a tragedy. They provide a network of support to one another and I don't dismiss them – they have a role."
The organisation is to launch a free-call Connect number next month in partnership with the Samaritans which people can call and always be answered by somebody at the other end.
The new number will "simplify the signposting to services for people who may be going through tough times," he said.
A new marketing campaign will also be launched in the autumn, which will aim to provide information on who and where people can get information.
The office provides training for health service staff and people in communities on how to respond to those at risk of suicidal behaviour. The recruitment of 34 nurses – who will be assigned to hospital emergency departments to help people who have engaged in self harm or made suicide attempts – will also be completed by June.
However, these nurses will not be available around the clock, he added.
The most recent reliable figures the office has on suicide relate to 2011 showing that 550 people took their own lives, a rise on the 2010 statistics. They do not take into account unexplained deaths.
There has been an increase in the number of middle-aged men taking their own lives and analysis has indicated factors such as unemployment, alcohol use and relationship breakdown may have a role.
Asked about teenage suicides, he said the gap between a young person suffering emotional distress and carrying out an act of self harm can be very short.
"It can be spontaneous and this makes it difficult to address. It leaves unanswered questions," he added.
Further information on funded agencies is available at www.nosp.ie/html/funding.html.