Talk, listen and learn about suicide

May 3rd, 2011

The Irish Examiner continues to highlight the importance of a mature and open attitude to one of the most fundamental public health concerns of all.

This appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Tuesday, May 03, 2011.

If you have known someone who has taken their own life, the feelings and emotions associated with that will dwarf any stark declarations about suicide rates per hundred thousand of the population. Nevertheless, we do need to consider what has happened in this country at a population level to help us better understand the nature and extent of the suicide problem. Our suicide rate grew, more or less, in line with economic growth throughout the 1990s followed by some signs in the first decade of this century that it was beginning to level off following an official peak of 519 deaths in 2001. Up until recently, most agencies were in broad agreement about the number of suicides each year in Ireland (ie around 500 deaths per year).

However, anecdotal evidence is sadly mounting, and early signs from official sources seem to support the feeling that the number of suicide deaths has risen to worrying highs during this period of economic turmoil. Each year, the CSO tells us how many suicide deaths were registered in the previous year — a provisional figure that is almost always revised upwards. That provisional figure for 2009 represented the highest number of suicides registered in a given year in this country at 527 and this will almost certainly be revised upwards.

So, “why shouldn’t we talk about suicide?” the Irish Examiner asks us. The answer is, of course, that we should. However, it is how we talk about suicide and the context in which we discuss suicide that is all important if our collective wish is to make it easier for anyone and everyone who experiences a suicidal crisis to reach out and ask for help. The one thing we do know with certainty, however, is that everyone who has ever experienced a suicidal crisis has done so while being part of a social network or a community of other people. We also know that a suicidal crisis is almost always preceded by a period of time during which life gets worse and feelings darken for the person who experiences the crisis. It is in this period of time that the opportunity to intervene lies. It is in this period of time that a positive and supportive public discussion of suicide, mental health and the importance of reaching out can make a real difference.

Suicide is a traumatic outcome and an extreme manifestation of human distress. Before feelings ever tend towards such severe distress we all need to take the opportunities that are there to talk and to listen.

If we take this approach about mental health and wellbeing, talking about how we feel in everyday conversation, it makes it easier for someone who is struggling in life to reach out and get the help and support that will get them through. Knowing where to go for the help that is available is crucial. The most important thing is that those conversations about mental health, suicide and how we are feeling are hopeful, positive conversations.

Elaine Geraghty
CEO Inspire Ireland Foundation
Pearse Street
Dublin 2