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Welcome study on suicide highlights critical issue

IF OUR great folk dramatist, John B Keane, were writing today he would point his doughty pen at the scourge of suicide. The fearless Kerryman would summate all the heartbreak and desolation in a few lines which were impossible to forget and help spur real action.

John B would likely spend many hours pondering the true-life stories in a report which this newspaper brings you in some detail today. It is the result research led by Professor Kevin Malone of UCD and St Vincent's University Hospital.

The research on 104 families stricken by suicide found an over-representation of 20-year-olds, a trend borne out by further international comparison.

This previously unreported trend prompted Professor Malone to evoke John B Keane's famous 1960 play, 'Many Young Men of Twenty'. The Professor noted that John B was referring to young men heading off during the fight for survival amidst the prevailing economic hardship.

"Fifty years later, suicide is our war for young men," Professor Malone aptly remarked.

The study highlights the inadequacies of the response from health services, education authorities and the justice system. It points up how all of us need to learn more about mental health and the ability to communicate with and listen to young people.

Worryingly, the project also identifies for the first time in Ireland, the extent of 'suicide clusters' which may have been previously underestimated. Findings suggest that up to half the suicides among under-18s are 'clusters' with the devastation of one loss through suicide prompting others to follow that example.

Professor Malone notes the utterly destabilising effect a young suicide can have in a small community. The heightened aftermath risk can last at least a year and anniversaries carry further risk.

"We have to place cluster-busting in our suicide prevention agenda," Professor Malone argues.

The study points up the need for more research and knowledge. Being aware of the problem and keen to help is a great boon – but not enough of itself.

More happily, the report carries a series of practical remedies which must be acted upon without delay. We cannot afford to continue losing so many young men of 20 – or any other age - to suicide.

Irish Independent