THE number of Irish children who have taken their own lives has doubled in a decade, it has emerged.
A new study has shown that almost half of the young people who died by suicide had been exposed in the previous six months to one or several peer suicide deaths.
Data collected for the Suicide in Ireland survey by UCD professor of psychiatry, Kevin Malone, was revealed at the Merriman Summer School.
Prof Malone compared CSO figures for the years 1993-1998 and 2003-2008 from 23 different counties to highlight the alarming increase in suicides among children in the past 10 years.
The rate of suicide in 15- to 17-year-old boys increased by 40pc in a decade. Between 1993 and 1998, the annual rate of suicide among boys aged 15 to 17 was 9.3 boys per 100,000. This increased to 13.5 boys for the 2003-to-2008 period.
Girls under the age of 18 were twice more likely to die by suicide in a decade, figures showed.
In the years 2003-2008, the annual rate of suicide among girls was 5.1 girls per 100,000, a sharp rise from 2.6 girls a decade earlier. Prof Malone remarked that the data collected for girls was "conservative" and may thus not reflect the full extent of the situation.
Overall, the rate of suicide among both boys and girls under 15 has doubled in a decade.
"And the figures show that it's constantly increasing -- almost two children every month in Ireland die by suicide," he told the Herald. He added that the mental health services who dealt with some of the children may not have been adapted to dealing with their age group, as they mainly target adults.
Prof Malone spoke to the relatives of 69 people between the ages of 18 and 35 who took their own lives, as well as the families of 14 children younger than 18 who also died by suicide.
One of his key findings from the interviews was that children who had no history of mental illness in the family had almost all been exposed to bullying or "some kind of significant personal assault" in the six months prior to their death.
He said that the assault was "something that strips their identity or humiliates them in some way" such as having their mobile phone stolen.
The study also revealed nearly 50pc of the children had been exposed to the suicide of someone in their age group in the six months prior to their death.
"Two of them (whose family was interviewed) were part of one cluster, but otherwise they were all part of separate clusters," he said.
Mr Malone collaborated with artist Seamus McGuinness to create a study on child suicide. Mr Guinness produced the Lived Lives exhibition, which shows items belonging to people under 35 who died by suicide. The items were given by the bereaved families.