NEW research has shown that tens of thousands of Irish men are in deep despair with the rate of male suicide continuing to rise dramatically often linked with alcohol abuse and depression.
Out of every 100 Irish men who will die this year, two will take their own lives.
One of the country's leading experts on suicide in this country, consultant psychiatrist Dr John Connolly, points to a social, spiritual, economic and educational vacuum in Ireland.
Dr Connolly believes RTE's popular soap Fair City may inadvertently spark "copy cat" deaths after a controversial murder and suicide storyline last week. Tens of thousands of viewers watched last week's dramatic episodes but the storyline featuring the suicide of one of its central characters appeared to portray suicide as a "way out" according to Dr Connolly.
In the soap a central character Tess Halpin is brutally strangled by her violent husband Marty who is then seen throwing himself into water.
"It appears that in this instance suicide was portrayed as "an escape" from justice. It is important that people are mindful of the impact of portraying suicide in the media - the possibility of copycat suicides. It is well established that those on remand are among the high-risk groups for suicide," Dr Connolly said.
According to Deputy Dan Neville of the Irish Association of Suicidology, suicide is now the most common cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds in Ireland and 80 per cent of those suicides in this age group are by males.
In 2001, 448 people took their own lives while last year 379 died in road traffic
"We spend millions trying to reduce road deaths but we are spending very little on trying to reduce the numbers of people who are taking their own lives," Deputy Neville added.
Dr John Connolly, consultant psychiatrist in Castlebar and Secretary of the Irish Association of Suicidology says a lot more has become known about the factors
associated with suicide.
"Suicide is a behaviour - not an illness. It is a symptom of an illness. We are aware that a very high proportion, as much as 90 per cent, of people who take their own life would have been suffering from some psychiatric illness - mainly depression," Dr Connolly says.
In most European countries the rate of youth suicides tend to be falling while in Ireland they are rising among both males and females.
"The rise in alcohol consumption in Ireland may be connected. In Europe the amount of alcohol consumed has decreased whereas in Ireland between 1989 and 1999 the level of alcohol consumption has gone up by 40 per cent and a lot of it is high risk drinking among those aged 18 to 24 - binge drinking, and so on," Dr Connolly suggests.
He is slow to suggest that a higher level of prescribing anti-depressants in Ireland might reduce the numbers taking their own lives.
"Look, the statistics are not complete on whether our rate of prescribing anti-depressants is lower than the rest of Europe. What is known is that young Irish men in particular are the least likely group in our population to admit depression and seek help for it."
"What we need to do is to ensure that all our psychiatric and counselling services are more user friendly and that more money is invested into this area. It is very clear that as the level of alcohol consumption in any country goes up, the level of suicide also rises." He points to recent studies estimating that for every 1 per cent increase in alcohol consumption in any country the suicide rates go up by about 1.5 to 1.9 per cent.
"So we really do need a proper workable strategy on tackling alcohol consumption in Ireland." Suicide rates are higher in rural areas than in the cities. "Somewhere along the line we are going to have to make the country areas more "liveable". There have been such dramatic change in this country, socially, spiritually, economically, educationally and it creates a type of vacuum - a spiritual vacuum."The Samaritans can be contacted at callsave 1850 609090.