PEOPLE are killing themselves after giving up waiting to be seen at accident and emergency departments due to a lack of services for those at risk of suicide, a national charity has claimed.
Console chief Paul Kelly said many of the 12,000 people who present at hospitals across Ireland each year as a result of self-harm or suicidal ideation, or both, often take their own lives because there is no one available to see them or provide follow-up care.
The problem is particularly serious when someone is depressed and has been drinking or taking drugs yet is facing long delays to see someone.
"They might be suicidal but end up queuing for hours," said Mr Kelly. "They often discharge themselves and end up in the river."
Despite a promise in the 2011 Programme for Government to ring-fence €35m a year for mental health services, the Government last week said only €20m will be set aside for next year.
The announcement comes after State Inspector for Mental Health Services Dr Patrick Devitt earlier this year said the state of mental health services was "stagnant and perhaps slipped backwards" over the past year due to staff shortages and poor management.
Mr Kelly said the Health Service Executive (HSE) made a move in the right direction by introducing Suicide and Crisis Assessment Nurses (SCANs) who are trained to identify patients at risk of suicide or self-harm and link them with the right services.
But because they are based at GPs' offices in the community, they are not generally available after-hours or in A&E units.
Mr Kelly said he was aware of only two SCAN nurses who have been hired to date, one based in Galway and the other in the south-east.
A HSE spokesman could not confirm last night how many SCAN nurses have been hired, but did say that a recruitment drive is under way to roll out the service in north Dublin, Tallaght, south Dublin, Waterford, Cork, Portlaoise, Sligo-Leitrim, Donegal and Galway.
Mr Kelly said the under-funding of mental health services, especially in the area of suicide prevention, is at a critical stage.
The most recent statistics released from the CSO, for 2011, record 554 suicides a year, but suicide prevention campaigners believe the figure is closer to 600 due to under-reporting.
Mr Kelly said: "The rates continue to rise and that is a cause for deep concern. What we need is a more targeted approach, training frontline people to be able to identify those at risk. And we need to reduce waiting lists so that people who are at risk can get the help they need."
Mr Kelly will be one of the speakers at the National Mental Health Conference at the Newbridge Primary Care Centre in Co Kildare on November 13.