Thursday, December 6, 2007

Separation and unemployment contribute to suicide, report suggests

Photo by Bethany L King (Flickr)

New Irish report on suicide

Connections with other people constitute an under-valued source of psychological well-being. As we become more individualised - not knowing who our next-door-neighbour is, spending more time in our own rooms with our own technology and so on - we ignore, at our peril, evidence of the links between isolation and mental ill-health. Further evidence for that link was reported in The Irish Times on Tuesday 27th November by Barry O'Keeffe.

"Separated men and women have high suicide rates, far higher than married people, according to new figures published last night," O'Keeffe wrote. "The figures also show that unemployed men are four times more likely to take their own lives than men in employment.

"The suicide rate of women who were unemployed was five times higher than that of women in employment. Women who were 'engaged in home duties' had a similar suicide rate to the employed.

"The report, which was launched last night in Dublin by Dr Jimmy Devins, Minister of State for Disability and Mental Health, was compiled by the National Suicide Research Foundation. Commissioned by the HSE National Office for Suicide Prevention, it examined deaths which occurred in the Republic in 2002. Of the 1,800 deaths into which an inquest was held, 495 were recorded as deaths by suicide.

New data
"The researchers were given access to what is known as form 104 for the first time. This is a form which gardaí complete for coroners' inquests to determine the cause of death, when such deaths are thought not to be through natural causes.

"'It is the first time that Irish data has shown separated people to be a high risk group,' said Dr Paul Corcoran, deputy director of the National Suicide Research Foundation. 'It is worth looking into, in terms of suicide prevention as the number of separated people in Ireland is increasing.'

"Dr Corcoran said the study of inquested deaths was the first time such data had been separated out from general data collected by the Central Statistics Office (CSO)."

Highest rates are in young men
As in traffic deaths, overall, the study found that the highest rates of suicide were among young men, according to the report.

In general, two-thirds of men who died by suicide did so by hanging, whereas for women, the most common forms of death by suicide were hanging, drowning and drug overdoses.

On the issue of whether alcohol was involved, Dr Corcoran said the data was not reliable, as it seemed at odds with generally accepted data on suicide, ie alcohol dependence seemed to be underestimated as a factor.

The report found that an above-average number of deaths happened on Sundays and Mondays. It said accidental deaths peaked on Sundays, whereas suicide deaths peaked on Mondays.

For each of these categories, the rate was at least 20 per cent higher than average on these days. Suicide deaths were least common on Wednesdays and Thursdays, with 17 per cent fewer deaths than average.

Link to spring and summer
The data demonstrated that suicides peak in late spring and early summer (April to June). Dr Corcoran said people would expect such deaths to occur more in winter, but these findings bore out similar studies around the world. It also found that about half of suicide deaths occurred around the home of the deceased, compared with 26-30 per cent of the accidents and homicides.

"The data indicated that a final communication - generally in the form of a written note - was made in 30 per cent of suicide deaths.

Dr Corcoran said the data was limited in respect of occupation of the deceased. However, he said, there seemed to be a high rate of suicide among semi-skilled and unskilled workers, including builders' labourers, assembly line workers, security guards and bar staff.

He cited Australia where a major initiative had been launched to target young men in the building industry, where it was thought that issues such as bullying had led to suicides. "We should consider launching similar initiatives here," he said.

Forms not satisfactory
The data was based on the 104 forms, which are completed by gardaí for inquests, giving details about the deceased and the facts surrounding the death.

Dr Corcoran said it was not the fault of the gardaí, but these forms were not always satisfactory. The report recommends that some changes be made in these forms to provide more accurate information.

In addition, Dr Corcoran said some different mechanism needed to be developed to collect more in-depth information on the medical and other contributory factors associated with suicide.

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