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Andrew Lynch: The tragic human toll of this brutal recession

It's hard to imagine a more graphic warning of the recession's terrible human cost. They were proud, tough men who should have had everything to live for -- but instead, they decided the only way out of their financial problems was to take their own lives.

Today's revelations about the rising number of suicides among taxi drivers proves once again the strong link between the state of the economy and mental health -- and suggests that the Government needs to be much more pro-active in locating the many people out there who urgently need help.

Last year 527 people in this country chose to take their own lives, a dramatic increase of 103 from 2008 -- while even more worryingly, more than 11,000 were admitted to hospital due to self-harm.

This is a far higher figure than the number of people who are killed on our roads, an issue that the Government rightly takes very seriously. When it comes to suicide, however, it seems that some of the old stigma from our Catholic culture still remains. The families left behind are often subject to a sense of shame, loneliness and rejection -- a situation that is not exactly helped by insensitive politicians who call victims "selfish bastards" or suggest that anyone who complains about the economy should go off and kill themselves.

One exception is the Fine Gael TD Dan Neville, who has tirelessly campaigned on the issue for many years. He warns that, if anything, the scale of our problem is being played down by coroners, who refuse to bring in a verdict of suicide out of respect for the victim's family.

Last year the courts recorded 195 "deaths by undetermined intent" -- and it would be naive to believe that at least some of these were not deliberate.

If ever there was a health issue where prevention is better than cure, this is it. Experts have consistently warned that we need to incorporate preventive responses into a range of social policies, including education, health and justice. The details to do this were all set out in a ground-breaking report, published a few years ago -- Reach Out: The National Strategy for Action on Suicide Prevention 2005-2014.

Vulnerable

Sadly, as with so many other official investigations, the Government has acted as if producing a report is enough in itself. Since then, funding to the National Suicide Prevention Office has been steadily cut and now stands at just over €3m -- less than half of what is spent by most of our EU neighbours.

All the evidence suggests that we need to pay particular attention to young men, who are most vulnerable to the sort of depression caused by a lack of work. That's why it's so frightening that we now have the second highest rate of youth unemployment in Europe -- and in the case of males between the ages of 21 and 24, an incredible one out of three is on the dole.

We all know that a recession leads to social problems, including crime, drug abuse and marital breakdowns. There is no problem, however, that cannot be improved if people have the courage to talk about it.

It's long past time for the Government and society at large to face up to our national suicide crisis -- if only for the sake of the grieving families who are suffering so badly through no fault of their own.


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