A CORONER warned yesterday how suicide is rampant in rural areas as he heard five inquests into the deaths of men who took their own lives.
Dr Brian Mahon, acting coroner for Co Offaly, said: "It is just an example of the rampant and really serious situation in Ireland and in particular in the rural areas where there seems to be an increase in these suicide deaths."
Of those who died by suicide, all were male and they were aged between 32 and 55. A sixth inquest related to a Polish national who lost his life in a fatal traffic accident.
While the cases date back to last year, Mr Mahon said there had been no let up in the number of cases for 2011.
"There is a very serious situation abroad in the country, it has not improved," he said.
And in Co Clare, three times more people died from taking their own lives than the number who died on the county's roads, according to provisional figures from the coroner's office. There were 15 suspected suicides in the county last year, compared to four road traffic fatalities.
But the suicide total may be even higher as, in some cases, the cause of death has not been fully determined.
Yesterday, consultant psychiatrist Moosajee Bhamjee called for the same energy and funding from the Government that had been put in place to tackle road safety to be put into suicide prevention.
"The figures are very worrying," Dr Bhamjee said. He called for a hard-hitting media campaign on suicide.
However, he conceded that government policy alone could not solve the issue. "It is a societal problem and people have to learn better coping skills."
Helen Dunne of the Irish Rural Link group said a combination of financial pressure and isolation had contributed to the problem. "The economic situation has had a huge effect. They have huge pressure in their own lives meeting bills," she said.
"If people are not in the workplace there is less social contact so it's not just the breakdown in finances."
Midlands suicide prevention officer Josephine Rigney said the HSE had rolled out two programmes in the region in conjunction with the National Office of Suicide Prevention.
More than 2,000 people took part in the ongoing accredited ASIST and SAFETALK prog-rammes in 2009, she said.
"The objective is to increase people's awareness and alertness," Ms Rigney said.
"If we are concerned about people and we get those skills, that increases our confidence and our capacity to be able to provide that support."
1Life offers a 24-hour national suicide helpline seven days a week and can be contacted at 1800 24 7 100. The Samaritans can be contacted on 1850 60 90 90 or texted at 087 260 9090.