Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Dail Address on Suicide Prevention 3rd May 2011

I wish the Minister of State [Deputy Kathleen Lynch] the very best in her role, which is an extremely important one for our society as a whole. Ireland is a small nation, yet we have one of the highest incidents of registered deaths by suicide in Europe. There is not a community in the country that has not been affected by suicide.
The programme for Government has set out proposals to develop and improve mental health facilities, starting in the community. It is proposed that €35 million will be ring-fenced from the annual health budget to build community mental health teams and services for adults and children. The programme for Government also sets out plans to strengthen the training of general practitioners to deal with mental health issues that may arise in the community. This is vitally important because a GP may be the first person with whom someone suffering from depression engages. If GPs cannot service that need or open the door to other services that are available, therein lies the biggest initial problem.
It is always said that a general practitioner should be the first port of call for physical illnesses, but we must make it the same for mental health issues. A review of the Mental Health Act 2001 and the Mental Health (Amendment) Act 2004 will take place under the new Government. The promise we made to introduce a mental capacity Bill, in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, must be delivered upon.
Recent studies conclude that instances of suicide have increased since 2009. One reason attributed to the increase in such deaths is the economic downturn and the pressure under which people have found themselves. It is wholly unacceptable that people should be committing suicide due to a lack of money and resulting pressures. The stigma attached to depression, however, often prevents people from asking for help. We desperately need to change this situation. The greatest sadness concerning suicide is that is it totally preventable.
Amnesty International states that four fifths of mental health service resources remain tied up in hospital-based treatment, which in itself has negative connotations. We must move away from that and deliver on our promises to give people the option of having access to the services they need at a local community level.
We must implement A Vision for Change, the implementation of which has been promised to the people for so long.
It must be borne in mind that the issue of suicide affects people of all ages. Perhaps in more recent times our attention has been drawn to the issue among young people by the Think Big campaign launched by Headstrong and, more recently, the Get on Board campaign to increase the awareness of mental health and push the issue to the fore of the political agenda among new and existing politicians.
Alarmingly, 60% of young people said they would not seek help from a health professional if they experienced mental health difficulties. This is testament to the old Irish attitude of not complaining and getting on with things. As a Government, we must support voluntary groups such as Headstrong, Aware, Amnesty International, Reach Out and the many other groups which exist to help to bring to an end the stigma attached to depression. Almost twice the number who die in road accidents die by suicide. As previous speakers said, the funding for the road safety campaign amounts to €20 million, while that provided for the suicide prevention campaign is €5 million. Therein lies a big problem. It is not my intention to make a comparison in the loss a family suffers in either case, but this illustrates the difference in the funding provided for the campaigns and the level of public awareness of the issues involved. This has to change.
Education on mental health must start in the community, particularly in schools by improving SPHE programmes; among support groups and voluntary organisations by improving their funding and facilities; and among GPs by strengthening their training to enable them to deal with issues that arise. Each one of us must take responsibility for the campaign to prevent death by suicide by ensuring we start at home and talking about it to our children, families, friends and work colleagues. Only when we remove the stigma from depression and the sense of failing and the lack of self-worth for those who suffer from it and replace these feelings with ones of security, hope and trust will it be more acceptable to ask for help.

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