Male suicide rate jumped by 57pc during recession
It's been said that recessions hurt, but austerity kills.
The findings of research by academics at UCC into the effects of Ireland's economic crash would appear to bear that out.
According to the study - the results of which have just been published - suicide rates for Irish men jumped by a staggering 57pc from the onset of the crisis in 2008 to 2012.
All told, the research carried out by Dr Paul Corcoran and his colleagues found that in the five years of the recession there were 561 more deaths by suicide than there would have been if pre-recession trends had continued.
While a similar study in the US conducted by a team at McGill University in Montreal also found strong associations between economic downturns and rates of suicide, the effects of recession on suicide in Ireland appears to have been greater.
Further breakdown of the Irish suicide figures in the five years between 2008 and 2012 shows that men accounted for 476 of those deaths and 85 were women. While men between the ages of the 25 and 64 were affected, the impact was greatest within the 25 to 44 age bracket.
Commenting on the findings, Dr Corcoran said the study "provides a stark reminder of the tragic human costs of policy failure in economic management by governments and other institutions at national and international level".
The results, which were published last Wednesday in the International Journal of Epidemiology (ICE) highlight the need, Dr Corcoran says, for "reliable and well-standardised data on suicide, self-harm and determinants of suicidal behaviour to guide policy on how best to mitigate the effects of economic crisis on mental health."
In arriving at their conclusions, the team at UCC note a combination of factors which it believes had a "significant negative impact on national rates of suicide and hospital-treated self harm".
Chief among the austerity measures cited by the authors as contributing towards the upsurge in suicides, are the cuts imposed by the present and previous government to welfare.
These included "significant reductions to unemployment benefits for young people, cuts in public-sector staffing and pay (with parallel and deeper cuts in the private sector) and substantial cuts in healthcare spending and cost shifting on to households".
The impact of those measures was compounded, Dr Corcoran and his colleagues believe, by falling house prices, high levels of negative equity, personal debt and increasing unemployment.
One possible root cause behind the concentration of suicide amongst males within the 25 to 44 age cohort, referred to in the study is the "collapse in the male-dominated construction sector".
The authors highlight the findings of a recent Irish psychological study which found an "over-representation of unemployed men and workers from the construction and production sectors, the sectors most severely affected by the recession.
"The suggestion has been made that whereas recession can hurt, austerity kills. Austerity has been central to the response of Irish governments," the report states.
Dr Corcoran and his colleagues do caution that "we can never know whether this [response by Irish governments] exacerbated the situation relating to national rates of suicidal behaviour".
In conclusion, however, they say that the study provides "compelling evidence" that Ireland's "profound economic recession" has led to increased suicide mortality in men and increased non-fatal suicidal behaviour by men and women.
The publication of the study comes in the same week that Independent TD Finian McGrath found himself coming to the assistance of gardai when a man in his mid-30s tried to take his own life outside Dail Eireann.
Commenting on the incident afterwards, the Dublin North Central TD said he believed the man's actions were a "statement" to the Government, and were a "symptom" of a "severely damaged" health system.
He said: "I actually get very upset that this lovely young man, in his mid-30s, was crying for help and tried to kill himself. I get mad we don't have the services he needs. His angst, his hurt, and his pain were all over his face, that's what got to me.
Mr McGrath says he intends to bring the incident to the attention of Health Minister Leo Varadkar.