I appreciate the opportunity to raise on the Adjournment the frightening increase in the rate of suicide. The provisional suicide figures for 2009 show that the number of deaths by suicide has increased by 25%, from 424 in 2008 to 527 last year. I suggest the real figure is much higher because there is a serious level of under-reporting of suicide. Experts estimate that the true figure is as high as 650. It is worth noting that 239 people died in road accidents last year. In 2008, the level of HSE funding to the National Office for Suicide Prevention was €5.1 million and the State grant to the Road Safety Authority was an inadequate €40.4 million. Figures will be published tomorrow to confirm that 11,966 people presented to hospital in 2009 having attempted suicide or engaged in self-harm. For every person who presents at hospital, at least six more people are thought to engage in self-harm. Therefore, the true figure for self-harm is approximately 70,000. The Government must recognise and respond to the level of suicidal behaviour, which requires an emergency response.
I wish to outline why I think this profound increase in suicide is taking place. During recessionary times, there is a sudden gap between material needs and resources. In economic downturns, frustration increases as an increasing proportion of people fail to meet their financial goals. There is clear evidence that suicide is linked to financial difficulties. The WHO has identified that the potential psychological impact of economic recession on public health is severe. Job loss, job insecurity, job uncertainty, economic strain, loss of income, home repossession and restricted access to credit lead to a reduction in mental well-being, an increase in mental health problems and mental ill-health, increased substance misuse, especially alcohol and drugs, and intimate relationship breakdown and divorce. There is a loss of perceived social worth, purpose and daily structure, a reduction in social contact, an increase in social isolation, and an increased risk of suicidal behaviour, non-fatal self-harm and completed suicides. A protracted period of unemployment, especially at a young age, seems to have a particularly deleterious effect on the mental health of young men, regardless of their social background. Rates of suicide are three to four times higher among those who are unemployed.
The Minister for Health and Children and the HSE must respond to the changes in society that are leading to higher rates of suicide and problems associated with mental illness. The failure of the Government to invest resources in mental health services, including suicide prevention, is one of the main contributory factors. I will set out a hypothesis relating to why the Government may be choosing not to invest in this social health issue. The stigma surrounding mental health issues and suicide is a barrier to the Government meeting the demands of society. Each Government responds to the expressed demands of the electorate. The demand for the Government to deal with suicide and mental health problems is not expressed due to the stigma associated with such matters. We hear about many problems when we knock on doors, but hear little about mental health. As we wish to protect ourselves and others from this stigma in some way, we do not demand the services that are badly needed for us or our family members. True political leadership must respond to the politically unexpressed needs of society. The Government is not doing this because there are no votes in it.