Alcohol abuse increases suicide risk – conference

  • Post category:News

“Why is suicide everybody’s business because suicide prevention is everybody’s opportunity,” consultant psychiatrist, Dr. Vincent Russell, told a Living Links conference held in the Cavan Crystal hotel on Saturday.

Dr. Russell who is clinical director of Cavan-Monaghan Mental Health Service welcomed the good turnout to the conference as it indicated progress in the public’s understanding of suicide, its impact on the bereaved and on the wider community.

He explained though that suicidal thoughts were common among people who might feel a sense of hopelessness in their lives but only one in two hundred of those would die by suicide. Suicide attempts were 20 times more common than completed suicide with suicide completion being four times more common among men than women. Young men were an at risk group for suicide completion, while self harm was more common among young women.

He said that there was no single cause for suicide and it resulted in the inter play of different factors. High risk groups according to statistics were members of the travelling community, farmers and occupations including his own. Socio economic factors had an impact and the number of suicides went up by 25% between 2008 and 2009. The rate of suicides in young men went up dramatically in the era of the Celtic tiger.

In relation to suicide prevention, Dr. Russell said that it seemed that broader changes were more powerful rather than targeting high risk groups. It was necessary to tackle multiple areas simultaneously.

There was an estimated eight-fold increase in suicide risk in the presence of current alcohol use. He and Dr. Paul Gaffney did a survey several years ago on young men and how they experienced their problems. Those surveyed reported alcohol as the greatest problem and he stated that it was worth noting that per capita consumption of alcohol in Ireland increased by 41% between 1988 and 1999.

As regards inter-personal relationships, Dr. Russell said that previously it was always more difficult for young women to deal with relationship break up than young men but now it seemed to be more of a problem for young men. There were issues such as the affect of alcohol on the male brain, which are being considered. Alcohol after the initial buzz also acted as a depressant and over 50% of those who engaged in suicide or attempted suicide had been drinking in the previous 48 hours.

Ireland had a long way to go in terms of educating people on the dangers of excessive use of alcohol, he said.

Dealing with the relationship between mental illness and suicide, Dr. Russell said that every mental disorder increases the suicide risk and a significant percentage of people with mental disorder are going to die by suicide. He said that the Irish mental health budget was less than six per cent of the overall budget and was much lower than that of other developed countries.

“We have a problem getting mental health up the prestige ladder in the same way as cancer and heart disease,” he said.

It was vital for those working in the primary care field to engage with people at the onset of their mental health problems. Measures such as a healthy exercise programme maybe all that was required, he suggested.


Source: The Anglo Celt, 22/09/10
Journalist: Tom Carron