Suicide Clustering in Ireland

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(The symptoms highlighted above are not just the preserve of teenagers)

A Suicide Epidemic

It is now an accepted perception that a suicide ‘epidemic’ among young people has visited Irish working-class areas of high deprivation  in particular.  So much so that academic studies and community outreach groups have been established as a response. These tragic suicides tend to manifest themselves as clusters within working-class communities. Many families have experienced the trauma of the suicide epidemic and all attest to the ripple effect within the wider family and communities.  Established international research indicates that is the case and that there is a distinct correlation between Capitalism’s economic slump, rising unemployment and increased suicide levels among young males. For instance, around 50 of the 242 people registered in 2007 in the North of Ireland alone, as taking their own lives were young men in this age group, according to statistics collated by the 6 county statistics research office, NISRA. That does not mean that we are powerless to do anything.
Particular to the 6 counties would be imperialism’s impact and the post-conflict factor. During the 40 + year conflict, doctors were more than happy to prescribe anxiolytics and similar meds on a long-term basis for post-traumatic symptoms, as quite simply, it was a problem beyond their power to treat. Past prescribing practice by family doctors in Ireland will confirm that in comparison to similar areas of economic deprivation in Europe, rates of Benzodiazepine reliance were significantly higher. Prescribing guidelines and practices have changed significantly with Doctors much less willing to prescribe anxiolytics.

The Conflict/Suicide Relationship

Academic studies suggest strongly that experience of the conflict in the North is associated with decreased mental health. (Miller et al.,2003; O’Reilly and Stevenson, 2003; Muldoon et al.,2005) and Mike Tomlinson’s “Suicide and Young People: the case of Northern Ireland”examined the issue in depth. The Tomlinson article asserted that:

“there is a lack of qualitative research exploring how families and local potential sources of help vary. An important aspect of this is ‘suicide contagion’, or imitation, which researchers claim may account for up to ten per cent of suicides, and possibly more amongst younger people (Gould et al., 1989; McKenzie et al., 2005). Very little is known about the processes that lead to suicide clustering: apparently linked chains of suicide within families, friendship groups and local communities.”
Tomlinson confirmed the poor state of mental health provision for young people in the North of Ireland in particular and concluded that:

“similarly, it is only recently that researchers have begun to ask questions about the role of popular culture, new communications and the Internet in mediating ideas about suicide (Gill, 2007). While a start has been made in understanding how the NI conflict has affected the registration of suicides, the recognition of the suicide problem and the speed and nature of the responses to it, there is a long way to go before children and young people are brought fully into the picture.”

Lifeline, Suicide Prevention Ireland and The Samaritans are support groups that offer a confidential, advice-based helpline to at risk groups. A mere few seconds of web based research by those who are genuinely concerned by the issues, will confirm that most helplines are free to mobile phone users who would not have access or feel comfortable using family landlines. These much needed services continue to deal with a high level of demand for their outreach services. Over 240,000 calls have been received by Lifeline since the service was established in February 2008, and urgent interventions are required on behalf of 15% of all callers.

Capitalism’s Role

The nature of the Capitalist system which creates few winners but many economic ‘losers’ is a significant factor and successive studies indicate that unemployed people are two to three times more at risk of suicide. The suicide epidemic is a distinctly working-class issue in Ireland. There is a commonality in the reported substandard experiences of young working-class people who have presented at local A&E departments seeking help or who have survived serious suicide attempts, para-suicides or have been morbidly depressed. This less-than-satisfactory gap in adequate health care provision has been confirmed by many families who have accompanied suicidal children or siblings to A&E departments seeking psychiatric referrals. In one reported case, a parent was told that due to their distressed and suicidal teenage son being within an age group that is not catered for by psychiatric services, he could neither be admitted nor treated!

Suicide clustering in Ireland, raises more questions than answers. The impact of imperialism is a significant factor that can not be underestimated, with the high rates of economic emigration often being the escape route of choice for the more economically mobile and skilled young workers. The unrealistic heightened expectations of a ‘peace dividend’ in the North of Ireland especially, did not materialise for working-class people, as like all attempts at cosmetic re-brandings of the Capitalist system, there are few winners.  No doubt the Bourgeoisie who are invariably ideologically Malthusian will do absolutely zero about the problem..

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Alex Mcguigan

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