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FactCheck: Is this widespread claim about the recent number of deaths by suicide in Ireland true?

The claim has spread widely on Facebook and Twitter and has caused significant distress.

A CLAIM THAT 33 people died by suicide in Ireland during a single week in August has spread rapidly on social media.

The claim has been made and repeated by multiple social media users without evidence to support it.

It has been shared widely on Facebook and Twitter, and has caused distress to many social media users.

Several of the posts making the claim compared deaths by suicide to Covid-19 deaths, and ask for deaths by suicide to receive more attention.

The Claim

The first posts claiming that there were 33 deaths by suicide in Ireland in a week emerged on 28 August, and were quickly repeated by many social media users.

On Facebook, a version of the claim that has been copied and pasted to multiple pages says: “Small bit of information. 33 suicides in Ireland last week? Not a mention about it anywhere???”

Two of the Facebook posts alone that have shared the claim were seen over 185,000 times and 15,0000 times respectively. 

suicide claim Source: Facebook

On Twitter, one person who shared a similar claim but initially said that the figure was over a month, rather than over a week, said that they heard the information from an “inside source”.

The user tweeted at 11.38am on 29 August that “33 people have ended their own lives in Ireland in the last month, [while] 6 have died with Covid. Let that sink in.”

They replied to their tweet to add: “*heard from an inside source, no way of proving the figures as of yet. She said, it’s next to impossible to get any sort of publication of the figures but last she heard it was up at 33 suicides for August.”

Their first tweet was retweeted over 730 times and liked 1,700 times, while the reply was retweeted four times and liked 36 times.

Suicide claim 4 Source: Twitter

At 10.30am on 29 August, another Twitter user had tweeted: “How many COVID deaths have we had this week, even this month?? Well I’ve just seen that there were 33 suicides in Ireland this week and we don’t have this being broadcast every day and measures being put in place to stop it. Shambles of a country.”

Several social media users sharing the figure have said that they may be wrong or that they have no source.

The Twitter user who said they had heard from an “inside source” that 33 people had died by suicide in a month retweeted themselves on 31 August and wrote: “I have recently found out that what I was told was wrong. It was 33 in a WEEK! Compare that the just 2 Covid deaths. Again it’s only word of mouth because the government have halted reporting on suicides since lockdown began. You need to be asking why.”

After they were asked for a source, the second user who tweeted at 10.30am on 29 August replied to their original tweet and said: “I read it somewhere yesterday. I haven’t a source. I may be wrong, personally I think a lot of suicides are not recorded. However, my point is that the fall out from Covid and how things are been [sic] done will have a devastating effect and it’s not been highlighted.”

The user’s original tweet, which quoted the 33 figure, was retweeted 1,300 times and liked 8,600 times, but their subsequent reply has only been retweeted once and liked four times.

Additionally, some posts have circulated with claims of figures relating specifically to Galway.

One of these posts on Facebook wrote on 30 August: “So far this month 16 people have died with Covid-19 in Ireland. So far this month 21 people died by suicide in just one county (Galway).”

suicide claim Galway Source: Facebook

The Evidence

The number of people who die by suicide in Ireland is recorded on an annual basis, as opposed to a weekly or monthly one.

Additionally, a death cannot be determined as a suicide until it has been properly investigated by coroners – a process which takes much longer than a week or a month.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, a spokesperson for the HSE said that it would not be appropriate for the HSE to comment specifically on “unverified claims”.

The HSE said that “in Ireland, the decision as to whether someone has died by suicide is a legal determination made by coroners, not a medical decision by doctors or the HSE”.

Before a death in Ireland is determined to have been due to suicide, there is a procedure that has to be followed.

It involves a coronial investigation, inquest, and registration processes.

Before a coronor’s inquest can be held, a minimum of two weeks notice must be given to the deceased person’s next-of-kin, and an inquest is not held until at least six weeks after the person’s death.

In practice, a coroner explained to TheJournal.ie that it takes “at least up to six months” for a verdict to be reached.

A pathologist must produce a full pathology report relating to the deceased person, which can take up to three months.

The report is sent to the gardaí and to the coroner. A decision made on whether it needs further investigation by gardaí or whether the death can be certified, which is “highly unlikely” at that point, or if it goes to an inquest.

An inquest takes an additional several months. Files are prepared, statements are collected, relatives are notified, and a date is arranged that is suitable for the pathologist, the guards, the next-of-kin and the coroner.

Currently, due to Covid-19 restrictions, inquests are restricted to only six people in a room, which is comprised of gardaí, a reporter, and the coroner.

These are known as documentary inquests, in which documentary evidence is read with the consent of the immediate next-of-kin.

If the next-of-kin wishes to be present at the inquest, it is likely that the process will not take place until 2021.

The coroner said that if people are making claims about recent deaths by suicide on social media, it is “speculation at most and hearsay at worst”.

The Central Statistics Office publishes data on deaths by suicide “following some time” to allow for the above processes to be followed.

A spokesperson for the HSE said that the HSE’s National Office of Suicide Prevention does not report, or comment on, “suspected suicides” – that is, cases which have been described as suicide but have not been published as official mortality data so as “not to undermine the investigatory processes involved in any sudden, unexplained, violent and unnatural death”.

The HSE says that it also does not report or comment on “suspected suicides” out of respect for the bereaved, to reduce potential harm to others, and to “avoid the proliferation of misleading or inaccurate information, which could also be harmful to vulnerable individuals or communities”.

The CSO provides mortality data, which includes deaths by suicide, in three different stages.

Firstly, there is a provisional stage with the number of deaths provided based on year of registration.

Next, there is an official stage which revises the numbers based of year of occurrence, and finally, the figures are revised again to include late registrations.

There is no informal public count or running tally available on the number of deaths by suicide in Ireland.

There is usually a time gap of two years or longer in the release of final, official figures from the CSO on deaths by suicide.

Provisional figures for 2019 were released in May 2020. 

The most recent official figures for the number of suicide deaths in Ireland are for 2017, and final figures include late registrations are only available for 2016 and previous years.

Figures are available for 2018 and 2019 on a provisional basis and are subject to change.

The 2017 figures do not yet include deaths that were registered late.

CSO data Source: National Office for Suicide Prevention

Between 2005 and 2016, there were 6,400 deaths by suicide in Ireland – an average of around 533 each year, or 10.3 each week.

The yearly total ranged from 483 in 2015 to 577 in 2011.

Over the last 15 years in Ireland, the highest number of deaths by suicide was in 2011, when the Central Statistics Office recorded 577 deaths by suicide.

This would equate to an average of 11.1 deaths by suicide per week in 2011.

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In addition to the claim that 33 people died by suicide in Ireland during one week in August, one popular tweet sharing the claim said that only 6 people died due to Covid-19 in Ireland, which is inaccurate.

Between 1 and 31 August, public health officials confirmed that there were 14 Covid-19 deaths in Ireland.

The claims relating to figures from Galway may have emerged from a tweet that was made by a Twitter user from Galway earlier in August.

On 12 August, the Galway local tweeted: “Unfortunately Covid-19 has taken the lives of 9 people in Galway to date. Since June the 1st 12 people have taken their own life. 21 this year so far. Why is mental health just left on the sidelines? Why are people just left to suffer in silence?”

The Twitter user was described by the Irish Mirror and Galway Bay FM as an ambassador for Jigsaw, a charity that offers mental health support for young people in Ireland.

However, a spokesperson for Jigsaw told the TheJournal.ie that although the person had been involved in fundraising, they are not an official ambassador for the charity.

The spokesperson said that deaths by suicide are not something Jigsaw has numbers on.

Earlier in the summer, Samaritans, a charity that provides support to people in emotional distress or at risk of suicide in Ireland and the UK, said that there was no evidence of a rise in the rate of suicides during Covid-19 after similar claims were made about the number of deaths by suicide in the UK. 

The claim in the UK said that suicides had increased by 200% during lockdown restrictions.

FullFact factchecked the claim in the UK and found no evidence that could support it.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, a spokesperson for Samaritans said that it is important for people to be mindful about what they share on social media.

“The language we use when we talk about suicide and how we communicate safely online about suicide is important,” the spokesperson said.

“If you’re talking about suicide on social media, take care to avoid speculative, alarmist comments which may fuel people’s anxiety and, instead, encourage people to seek help.”

“We know when people ring Samaritans for emotional support, they often mention isolation and loneliness, anxiety and mental health, family and relationship issues, and financial worries. It is no different in the current crisis, a crisis that has magnified these issues for callers and looks likely to continue to do so for some time to come.”

The Verdict

It isn’t impossible that 33 deaths by suicide happened in Ireland last week. 

However, taking past trends into consideration, it would be more likely that the figure was lower.

One version of the claim originally said that there were 33 deaths by suicide over the last month, before the poster said two days afterwards that it was 33 in a week.

The suggestion that 33 deaths by suicide took place over the period of a month would be more in line with monthly averages in previous years.

However, there is no available evidence that can verify either version of the claim.

Deaths are not pronounced as suicides by doctors or by the HSE.

It is a legal determination made by coroners rather than a medical one and takes time to be investigated, processed, and recorded – and as one coroner told us, making these claims on social media is “speculation at most and hearsay at worst”.

Because of that, it cannot be said definitively how many deaths by suicide happened in the last week or month – it takes much longer than that to determine and record a case of suicide.

As a result, we rate the claim that there were 33 deaths by suicide in Ireland last week: UNPROVEN. As per our verdict guide, this means: The evidence available is insufficient to support or refute the claim, but it is logically possible.

Need help? Support is available:

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

 TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here. 

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