Teens shine a light on the long shadow of suicide

The HSE’s National Office for Suicide Prevention marked World Suicide Prevention Day on Monday by gathering together over 130 participants from funded agencies and partner organisations to share best practice on the theme “Working Together to Prevent Suicide in Ireland.”

The HSE’s National Office for Suicide Prevention marked World Suicide Prevention Day on Monday by gathering together over 130 participants from funded agencies and partner organisations to share best practice on the theme “Working Together to Prevent Suicide in Ireland.”

World Suicide Prevention is held across the global on annual basis and the aim of the day is to generate awareness of policy and interventions that can make a difference to prevent suicide.

This forum took place at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, hosted by Martin Rogan, the HSE’s assistant national director for Mental Health. It included a keynote speech titled “Suicide Prevention – What Works?” by Steve Platt, professor of health policy research at the University of Edinburgh.

Recognising that suicide and self-harm are a significant public health issue in Ireland, one of the key components of the forum was a round-table session to identify opportunities for better coordination of suicide prevention initiatives across the range of organisations to ensure full and effective implementation of the National Strategy for Action on Suicide Prevention, ‘Reach Out.’

Because early intervention is essential, two of the presentations at the forum highlighted how programmes targeted at people who are at risk of suicide at both a primary care and within emergency department can help prevent suicide in Ireland.

A large-scale research study on more than 14,000 young people aged between 12 and 25 years living in Ireland and published this year by Headstrong and UCD shows that rates of suicidal thoughts and self-harm were higher in young adults who did not seek help or talk about their problems.

Talking about problems is known to reduce and lower mental health distress and is associated with higher positive adjustment. The HSE’s aim is to consistently build on the message that it’s okay to talk about and share worries and concerns.

Mental health has been cited in the top five concerns for young people in Ireland today.

Findings in the Headstrong/UCD study also show that excessive use of alcohol is associated with poor mental health and well-being. The study found that depression and anxiety were significantly higher when a young person engaged in harmful drinking or was possibly becoming alcohol dependent. Particularly among adolescents, harmful drinking is linked to heightened anxiety levels well above the norm.

“We know that certain strategies, such as restriction of access to lethal means of suicide, psychosocial treatments following self-harm, training for community gatekeepers, the education of GPs and the recognition and treatment of depression can be successful,” Professor Platt said. “One of the central challenges for the 21st century, however, is to develop more robust evidence to support suicide prevention strategies and programmes.”

“Over the last number of years, there has been a growth in the number and range of organisations working in the area of mental health and suicide prevention,” Mr Rogan noted. “Each organisation is working hard to make a difference to the individuals, families and communities they support. Given the extraordinary challenges to our economy, we need to do even more to improve the mental health of at-risk groups. We need to find new ways to work collaboratively to better marshal our efforts and ensure the greatest possible impact on our shared objective of reducing suicide in Ireland. It is important that we have a coherent approach and reach out to people with consistent messages.”

The HSE’s National Office for Suicide Prevention funds 42 programmes in 27 organisations such as Console, Samaritans and Pieta House to deliver services and support. These programmes include suicide prevention training, health education campaigns, research and providing funding to agencies that directly respond to people in crisis and to families bereaved through suicide.

“I will not cease to do all in my power to stop the tragedy of suicide,” said Kathleen Lynch, minister of state with responsibility for disability, older people, equality and mental health. “Here and now, I call on everybody in society to watch out for their loved ones and to talk, as talking and sharing and seeking help when we need it is at the heart of the solution. We have to all work together on that.”