“Alcohol was a key factor” – interviews with 26 men who had attempted suicide

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ALISON HEALY in The Irish Times

THE NEED for so many suicide prevention groups was questioned by UCD sociologist Dr Anne Cleary at a seminar on farmers ’ health in Athy.

There are now hundreds of suicide prevention groups, counselling services, help lines and websites, she said.

 “In fact, in many ways, from my work in this area I would say that probably there are too many organisations, ” she said.  “But it ’s difficult in a sense to put a cap on the number of organisations because they often arise out of personal or community tragedy and therefore you can see how it ’s difficult in a way to look at this topic objectively. ”

Dr Cleary recently jointly published a report titled Pain and Distress in Rural Ireland with PhD student Maria Feeney and Dr Áine Macken-Walsh of Teagasc. Based on interviews with 26 men who had attempted suicide, it found they largely came from lower socio-economic groups. Half were unemployed and most were single or separated. Alcohol was a key factor, with one-third of the men having a history of alcohol dependency.

Dr Cleary said it was very clear that people in rural areas were more at risk. Suicide was  “very definitely ” an issue among older rural men as quite a lot of them took their own lives before they could be helped. She said many of the farmers interviewed in the study were struggling to survive on small holdings and were experiencing stress and disillusionment.

Teagasc health and safety officer John McNamara said it was important that the findings were discussed so that prevention strategies could be improved.

Finola Colgan, development officer with Mental Health Ireland, encouraged farmers to treat their mental health as seriously as their physical health. She said friendships and involvement in community activities were protective factors and minimised loneliness and isolation.

Farming was a 24-hour-a-day commitment so people could not suddenly decide to take a week off if they were feeling stressed or depressed, she said. The bad weather was also increasing stress as farmers worried they would not be able to save their crops.

Ms Colgan said people in rural areas were often reluctant to talk to their GPs about depression because they knew them. Her tips for building up resilience included getting enough sleep, taking time for oneself, accepting help from others and telling oneself that  “this too shall pass ” when feeling stressed or depressed.