Lost Generation take their lives, and deaths, into their own hands
As suicide rates resemble those experienced in the Eighties, medical experts agree that the economic decline is a strong factor, reports Jim Cusack
YOUNG men are committing suicide at a rate akin to that seen during the economic recession of the Eighties, indicating that many people were driven to despair and chose to take their own lives rather than emigrate or seek a new direction.
Garda statistics and indicators about deaths that would otherwise be referred to as "misadventure" suggest that more than 700 people committed suicide in 2009.
Aside from the widely reported cases in which developers and businessmen killed themselves after suffering financial ruin, gardai and emergency service professionals say they encountered an unusually high number of young men committing suicide over the past 12 months.
In October last year, 31 men, most of them in their 20s and 30s, killed themselves, while two women, again both young, committed suicide.
The worst month for suicides last year was March, with at least 54 incidences.
Last week Meath County Coroner John Lacy said the increasing number of suicides was disturbing. "That is an unfortunate development over the last few years," he told the Meath Chronicle recently.
"A few years ago, there would be a ratio of between 60 per cent and 70 per cent road deaths to a smaller number of deaths by suicide. Now that trend has been totally reversed and the vast number of inquests are dominated by suicide cases.
"I sometimes think that some people may become disconnected from their families through alcohol or other addiction problems and, of course, it is very distressing for families when this happens."
Traditionally suicide levels rise towards the year's end, but there was no marked increase in November and December last year.
Again, gardai and professionals usually encounter a spate of suicides at New Year, but that didn't happen last year. There was only one suicide on New Year's Day.
Official statistics are not available, but gardai encountered just over 600 cases of clear suicide during the year. Just over 100 people who drowned were not logged as suicides, and there were a small number of deaths officially logged as "accidents" in which gardai strongly suspect suicide.
Gardai also encountered cases of overdoses by drug addicts which they also suspect were deliberate.
The signs that suicides were rising were already evident from early in the year. Figures from the Central Statistics Office showed that 85 men and 21 women committed suicide in the first quarter of 2009, a 40 per cent increase on the first quarter of 2008.
Officially the number of suicides in 2008 was 424, but many suicides are not officially recognised. Some Coroner's Courts refuse to return verdicts of suicide and, gardai say, many "accidents" or "misadventure" deaths are actually suicides. Anecdotally, gardai and the emergency services all experienced unusual numbers of suicides in 2008.
One Garda source said that, from speaking to colleagues around the country, 2009 did appear to be a year where the economic woes of the country led to an increase in suicides. He said encountering suicide cases was always very difficult, and that all his colleagues believed that Ireland needed more and better psychiatric and counselling services which could prevent at least some suicides.
Research already available on suicide and self-harm indicated last year that there had been a substantial rise in self-harm cases presenting at hospitals and clinics. In 2008, 12,000 self-harm cases presented, the largest number since statistics have been kept. Senior medical professionals said there was no doubt the onset of economic recession was a factor.
Fine Gael's Dan Neville, a campaigner for greater psychiatric services, pointed out that the State spends 10 times more on road safety than it does on suicide prevention.
Despite years of campaigning by Deputy Neville and others, the State has not provided out-of-hours psychiatric or social work services. The vast majority of suicides take place in the evenings or at night when no professional counselling is available.