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Dublin: 12 °C Saturday 1 November, 2014

Sharp increase in suicide rate is linked to recession – experts

There were 552 suicides recorded in 2009, an increase of 9 per cent on the previous year. One study found a high number of people who had taken their own lives had been unemployed.

Suicide in men linked to recession
Suicide in men linked to recession
Image: cauchisavona via Flickr

NEW FIGURES SHOW there has been a sharp increase in the number of suicides in Ireland,with experts linking the increase to the recession.

Latest figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show that there were 552 suicides recorded in 2009, an increase of 9 per cent on the previous year.

80 per cent of those who died by suicide in Ireland that year were men.

The CSO Report on Vital Statistics for 2009 which was released this month shows 443 male suicides that year, a 15 per cent increase on 2008. In that same year there were 109 female suicide deaths, a 9 per cent decrease on the previous year.

The highest rates were recorded for males between the age of 35-44 and 25-34 at 23.7 per cent and 23.5 per cent respectively.

The impact of the recession on mental health is a contributory factor to the rise in suicide rates say experts who work in the area.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie Dr Anne Cleary, a lecturer in the department of Sociology in UCD, said:

Unemployment is absolutely associated with stress and suicidal behaviour. The recession and all of the stresses surrounding that is having an effect on families and is linked to mental stress.

A study by the National Suicide Research Foundation (NSRF) which looked at 190 cases of suicide in Cork City and county between Sep 2008 and Mar 2011 showed that 38 per cent were unemployed and 32 per cent worked in construction.

NSRF research director Ella Arensman told TheJournal.ie that when they began the research they had no idea that it would be during a time of recession. She said she never would have expected such stark statistics but that they reflected the impact the recession was having.

“The  CSO figures confirm that suicides among men in Ireland rose sharply as the economy went into severe recession, ” said Arensman. Other business sectors that had high suicide rates are the agriculture sector, business and commerce as well as taxi drivers.

She said that mental health issues are a contributing factor adding that “the recession is compounding the problems that the vulnerable were already facing”.

Dr Anne Cleary has conducted research into suicidal behaviour among young men and looked at the risks and vulnerabilities associated with men in rural areas.

She said that research shows that there is a socio-class element and that not all men are under pressure in society. “Men who follow traditional ways of thinking, who don’t want to show feelings, who feel that certain traditional attributes in a man are very important – then I think those kinds of men are experiencing difficulties in society now,” she said.

Her research into suicidal behaviours in men in rural areas shows that there is a link and this, she says,  is due to the types of men that live in these areas.

The study I did on rural men that is just about to be completed suggests that isolated areas have higher suicide rates. You see that in isolated areas like the west of Ireland, in the highlands of Scotland and the rural parts of Australia. In these areas an adherence to the traditional type of male in that community is evident whereby men feel they have to be strong no matter what challenges are being thrown at them.

David Stuckler, a sociologist at the University of Cambridge, who led a study published in The Lancet found the recession is having an effect on mental health all over Europe. There has been a sharp rise in suicides across Europe, particularly in seriously affected countries like Greece and Ireland since 2007, coinciding with the downturn.

In Greece, the suicide rate among men increased more than 24 percent from 2007 to 2009, and has been described as a pan-European record high, with experts attributing the rise to the country’s economic crisis. Statistics released in 2011 by the Greek ministry of health show a 40 per cent rise in death by suicide between January and May compared to the same period in 2010.

Dr Cleary says in European terms Ireland has a relatively high level of suicides. “It is important to see that those statistics occur in other countries also, so it is not just about Irish men. There is a lot of crisis talk around Irish men and suicide and while it is an absolutely tragic act, merely to associate it with Irish men and the pressure at this time is not really the answer – it generalises the problem,” she said.

How teenagers are affected

However it is not just men that are at risk of mental health issues caused by the recession says Maureen Bolger, founder of TeenLine Ireland, a helpline specifically for teenagers.

Maureen, who lost her son to suicide in 2003, said she was horrified to find there were such little resources for teenager’s mental health issues which led to her setting up TeenLine. She said that teens are taking on their parents stresses and worries during the recession.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie she said:

Young people are listening to what is happening at home; maybe Dad has lost his job or maybe both parents have. They are listening to the worries of their parents and young people are actually taking that upon themselves.

She said that children can often magnify a problem making it bigger than it actually is which is why she says it is so important to speak out if you are worried or stressed. “Parents may think they are not listening, but parents need to be aware that children are around and they are very good at picking up things. They are nearly experts at picking up what’s not right,” said Bolger.

According to Youth Suicide Prevention Ireland, between 2001 and 2005 11.8 per cent of suicides were by people between the ages of 15 and 19 years of age. Maureen warns that in the last two weeks TeenLine’s calls have risen sharply.

What is happening in our country and what is not being addressed is a tsunami of suicides. It is Ireland’s secret. Everyone else is looking at the recession – money, money, money. Some people are looking at the state of the country and they are used to having their two cars and they can’t pay for the house anymore, they have to downsize and some just can’t deal with it.

She added that the road safety campaign has done a great job in creating awareness and said that with such a high rate of suicide the same sort of resources should be dedicated to a mental health campaign.

Employers have also begun to look at how to cope with the effects of suicide.  A booklet called ‘Breaking the Silence in the Workplace: A Guide for Employers on Responding to Suicide in the Workplace’ was developed by suicide bereavement charity Console and the Irish Hospice Foundation in collaboration with ICTU and the Irish Business and Employers Confederation. It offers advice on how to deal sensitively with the suicide of a colleague, and how to support an employee affected by the suicide of someone.

A spokesperson for Console told TheJournal.ie that “in the last two years we had noticed an increase in employers coming to console about this asking for help about how best to deal with it. People want to know how to best handle the situation and also to see that it doesn’t happen in their community again”.

He added that the impact can be huge in a workplace when a member of staff has died by suicide saying “people spend more than half their day in work with their colleagues”.

A spokesperson for the Health Service Executive (HSE) told TheJournal.ie that the increases in the rates of death by suicide are not unexpected “given the economic crisis and its impact on unemployment”.

Reach Out, the national strategy for action on suicide prevention was launched in 2005 to tackle the problem of suicide in our society. The HSE spokesperson said that the government has demonstrated its commitment to addressing the increase in deaths by suicide by increasing funding allocated to suicide prevention initiatives through the National Office for Suicide Prevention (NOSP).

The HSE said an additional allocation of €1m in 2011 which enabled the further funding of 27 projects across the voluntary and statutory sector, and that the money had increased the number of funded programmes and services from 10 in 2010 to 41 in 2011.

The HSE stated that in 2012 there was further government investment of €3m which essentially represents a total increase of funding for project based work from €4.2m in 2010 to €8m in 2012.

Teen-Line’s Maureen Bolger said “We are all struggling in this country at the moment but the important thing to remember is to talk to someone in times of stress”.

For more information on mental health services please see links below:

Samaritans > 1850 60 90 90

Teen-Line Ireland> 1800 833 634

Console> 1800 201 890

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