Counsellors say suicide debate is ‘flawed’

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Two suicide prevention campaigners have described the current debate on suicide as “flawed and short-sighted” and have called for a new approach to the issue.

Dr Tony Byrne and Sr Kathleen Maguire, who run suicide prevention courses for the Awareness Education Office, said suicide rates would continue to rise until the root causes, such as bullying and alcohol abuse, were addressed.

Figures published earlier this year revealed a 24 per cent increase in the number of people dying by suicide last year, up from 424 in 2008 to 527 in 2009.

“We are getting nowhere if we don’t look at the root causes. Is it the easy option to avoid this?” Dr Byrne said. “We have been involved in community awareness programmes on suicide prevention and grief for the past 16 years, and we are therefore surprised at the flawed and short-sighted approach of the current debates on the problem of suicide.”

Dr Byrne said bullying at home, in the workplace and in school was a key factor in some suicides. “It is worth noting that researchers have identified that 14 to 20 per cent of all suicides are associated with bullying,” Sr Maguire added.

She highlighted the increase in cyber bullying with bullies leaving comments on social media websites and using mobile phones to harass their victims. She said research showed that text messaging was now the most common form of bullying with almost one in three girls and 22 per cent of boys having received unacceptable text messages.

Dr Byrne said any Government allocation to community groups involved in suicide prevention was “a waste of taxpayers’ money” if the work did not focus on the root causes of suicide.

Last month, the Government announced that an extra €1 million would be provided to community groups involved in suicide prevention work following the increase in the number of people dying by suicide.

Also last month, the minister with responsibility for mental health, John Moloney, introduced the first in a series of nationwide town hall-style meetings in a campaign to help tackle the growing rate of suicide and change attitudes towards mental ill-health.

Dr Byrne said alcohol abuse, and particularly binge drinking, must be recognised as a key factor in suicide. “Studies have shown that as the rate of alcohol misuse increases, so too do suicide rates increase,” he said.

Dr Byrne’s Dublin-based office, which was set up by the Holy Ghost Fathers and the Presentation Sisters, runs courses on suicide, alcohol misuse and bullying.

Source: The Irish Times, 27/09/10
Journalist: Alison Healy