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Saturday 20 October 2018

Limerick city among the hardest hit by the tragedies of suicide

STRATEGY: Professor Siobhan O’Neill
STRATEGY: Professor Siobhan O’Neill

Alan O'Keeffe

Suicide has hit Limerick city the hardest of all the cities and towns of Ireland in recent years.

The most recent figures reveal the suicide rate in the Shannonside city was more than twice the national average in the three years from 2014 to 2016.

While the national rate of suicide has seen a welcome decline in recent years, a number of regions were significantly higher than the nationwide average.

National suicide numbers peaked in 2011 when 554 people took their own lives, making a national rate of 12.1 per 100,000 of population.

The rate of suicide has declined every year since then. In 2015, the numbers had fallen to 425 and the rate was 10.5.

CSO figures compiled by the National Suicide Research Foundation for the period 2014 to 2016 reveal that the average rate of suicide in Limerick City was 23.7.

Other areas with high average rates of suicide per 100,000 of population during those years were Roscommon (17.3), Cavan (17.2), Carlow (16.3) and Clare (15.7).

Some of the lowest rates were in Dublin City (6.7), Laois (6.0), Fingal (4.9), Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown (4.8) and Waterford City (2.1).

Twice to three times as many men than women took their own lives.

Professor Siobhan O'Neill, a director of the Irish Association of Suicidology, said geographic location can be a strong factor in the incidence of suicide.

"Where there are high rates of poverty, deprivation and unemployment you will get higher rates of suicide and particularly during an economic crisis," said the academic, who is Professor of Mental Health Sciences at Ulster University.

"Suicide can occur across all the social classes. In the cases of young people, there can be social perfectionism, fuelled by media, and exam pressures and other factors will influence those groups. Middle class suicides will happen in those groups as well," she said.

She said there were variations as to how coroners in different regions listed deaths as suicides.

"So in areas where suicides are more highly stigmatized, you will find that your rates might be a wee bit lower. It could be a factor but the evidence is purely anecdotal," she said.

She added that it was a matter of social justice to seek to create meaningful lives for people.

"Anything that affects unemployment, debt, marital break-up, relationship break-up, anything that will help people around those issues will reduce your suicide rate," she said.

"And then there's the mental health population specifically. Around a third of suicides will be in contact with the psychiatric services and will be known in some way to the secondary care services. So there is a lot you can do in relation to those services," she said.

She also revealed it was important for people to realise that their mental illnesses are very treatable.

"And life crises can be overcome in ways that people can't even imagine so it is important to ask for help. And to help others ask for help. To pick up the phone and phone one of the many organisations that can provide help because we have seen so many cases where deep suicidal thoughts have been turned around and people go on to have meaningful lives," she said.

She also said the National Office of Suicide Prevention and the National Suicide Research Foundation were working in these areas. The Connecting for Life programme, which is being implemented in different regions, was starting to have an impact on suicide rates.

Connecting for Life is the national strategy to reduce suicide over the period 2015 and 2020.

The vision of the Government strategy is to reduce the number of lives lost through suicide where communities and individuals are empowered to improve their mental health and well-being.

"We must continue to implement the strategies…I think we are starting to see the benefits," she said.

Sunday Independent

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