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Kerry has one of Ireland's highest rates of suicide - will the government's 'action plan' help?

The outgoing Kerry coroner is critical of the government’s new plan to reduce suicides in Kerry.

Image: Frank Baumgart DPA/PA Images

LAST WEEK, THE government launched an action plan to help combat suicide and self-harm in the Kerry area.

The government, through Kerry, is attempting to see if its plans to tackle suicide nationally work at a local level.

One vocal advocate on issues around suicide in the area, however, is not convinced that that the plan will “save one life” let alone whole groups at risk in the county.

Kerry context

Connecting for Life: Kerry is a series of measures designed to implement the government’s wider strategy on suicide prevention at a local level. It was built on community engagement, with 689 public submissions contributing to the report.

The aim is to unite a range of services to make a real difference for those affected by suicide and self-harm in the county:

Through collective action, a commitment to effective interventions, and supported by political will and resources, it will use the strengths of all those involved to become a force for change in suicide prevention and self-harm reduction in County Kerry.

The outgoing coroner of south Kerry Terence Casey, however, told TheJournal.ie that the ways to combat suicide are already well-known and did not require the commissioning of a report to find this out.

The county has among the highest rate of suicide in the country according to the National Office of Suicide Prevention’s most recent report for 2015, and is consistently above the national average.

In its report outlining the initiative, the HSE describes the local context in Kerry:

In 2015 according to Central Statistics Office (CSO) statistics, there were 147,554 people living in Kerry. Of these, 65% live in areas with a population less than 1,500 people.

While Ireland’s population grows, the population of Kerry has grown at a much smaller rate, as fewer people occupy the villages and towns in the region.

Most districts of Kerry are considered to be “deprived” according to CSO measures, and this problem has been exacerbated in recent years.

Since the economic downturn, Kerry’s suicide rate has been far higher than the national average.

kerry Source: HSE

The HSE said that, based on these figures, “it suggests that a strong correlation exists between suicide and economic uncertainty”.

Implementation

The plan was drafted following a public consultation, and a number of anonymous submissions are included in the HSE report.

The following are from three different submissions, and give an idea of the diverse make-up of the report.

Children at school learn how to read the alphabet and their words but the skill of learning how to read how other people around them are feeling and how to read how they themselves are feeling is left up to chance.
It is also important to have a separate discreet service that could help, especially for those living in rural areas. The shame is one of the most serious obstacles in my opinion.
Educate people that everybody has mental health as well as physical health. Our mental health can fluctuate and it is something that we need to look after. People need to be educated about wellness, health and wellbeing.

Among the priorities of the plan, there are aims to better understand suicidal behaviour, support communities to prevent and respond to such behaviour, improve the access, consistency and integration of services and reduce access to means.

It will involve an oversight committee who will work with the HSE, educational services and community services to ensure that the plan is followed through on.

A number of groups, some of which overlap, are pinpointed who may be most at risk of suicide and self-harm in Kerry, which includes people with existing mental health conditions, member of

The LGBTI community, asylum seekers and refugees, people who misuse alcohol and people who are homeless are identified as those most at risk by the HSE.

The organisers of the campaign put an emphasis on, through the various groups involved, promoting social interaction among those at risk, build resilience for these vulnerable people and encourage more physical activity.

In its objectives, a clear accountability is set out for who should lead each task with the HSE, Tusla and the regional resource officer among those required to tribute.

They are tasked with delivering campaigns to reduce the stigma around mental health difficulties and providing community-based organisations with guidelines, protocols and training.

“Action, not words”

The south Kerry coroner Terence Casey had his last day in the office during the week, as he faces into compulsory retirement.

Casey has been vocal on the issue of suicide in the region, gaining a national audience for his calls to action.

In one case, he recalled sitting in court for nine cases, where eight of those people had committed suicide.

He has come across numerous cases of suicide – from both old and young people – during his time as coroner and feels that while more definitely needs to be done, the government had got its priorities wrong.

“It has taken a year to put this document together,” he said, referring to the HSE’s plan. “Instead, they could have been taking action during this period rather than spending time and money on words.

We all know how it could be prevented. We know what needs to be done.

Casey said that social interaction was something that needed to be focused on, with people becoming increasingly isolated in the rural areas of south Kerry.

People don’t go to the pub for a pint and a chat anymore. People don’t go chat to their neighbours. Social interaction is gone and when that happens people sit at home and they brood over small things that become big things. This document won’t change that.

In response, the HSE stressed that a number of activities had taken place before the publication of the report to help to prevent suicide in Kerry.

They listed measures such as the delivery of self-harm workshops to professionals working with young people, the delivery of many safeTALK workshops and work was done around engaging men living in rural isolation.

A spokesperson said: “We are delighted that the community in Kerry are taking ownership not just of the Connecting for Life plan but also the implementation of that plan.

The extensive feedback from the consultation formed the basis for a set of more than 60 real and concrete actions which are the backbone of the plan. We have to stress that work began on those actions before the official publication.

“Work together”

Minister of State Helen McEntee said that involving a number of organisations in a coordinated plan to reduce suicide and self-harm in the county meant that there would be no “dropping the ball”.

fine gael Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

She said in a statement: “This Kerry suicide prevention plan sets out a roadmap to address suicide and self-harm.

It is important that we all continue to work together, at all levels, to identify people at risk and to ensure that appropriate services are in place to provide the help and support needed. If we do this, I believe that we will achieve our goal of fewer lives lost to suicide.

Speaking at the launch of the plan, she told Radio Kerry: “These are live plans and have really been driven by the local communities.

Local communities want to drive it and really take ownership over what it is happening. Connecting Life is about connecting communities, connecting families, connecting organisations. When you have so many people involved, it’s very difficult to drop the ball.

If you need to talk, contact:

  • Pieta House 1800 247 247 or email mary@pieta.ie (suicide, self-harm)
  • Samaritans 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org
  • Aware 1800 80 48 48 (depression, anxiety)
  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)
  • Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)

Read: ‘It makes no sense’: The HSE does not record the number of suicides at hospitals

Read: ‘Someone attempts to take their life every 9 minutes’ claims Minister

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