I am glad of the opportunity to say a few words on this most important of subjects. It has come into public focus and debate in a much sharper way in recent years for very obvious reasons. Suicide is not someone else’s problem, it is everybody’s problem. An individual dies but the whole community suffers. A loss of life affects all strands of the community. Effective action is needed to approach the stigma of suicide and, in turn, help people become more aware of suicide and its impact.
In 2009, there were 527 deaths by suicide, and 527 families and communities all felt the huge loss which suicide brought to the area. This is a major issue which needs to be dealt with. The more support networks we have, the better the chance for people to talk about how they are feeling and the more lives will be saved. The HSE National Office for Suicide Prevention is responsible for overseeing the implementation of Reach Out: A National Strategy for Action on Suicide Prevention 2005-2014. The main vision of Reach Out is of a society where life is valued across all age groups, where the young learn from and are strengthened by the experience of others and the needs of those going through a hard time are met in a caring way. Reach Out calls for a multi-sectoral approach to the prevention of suicidal behaviour, in order to foster co-operation between health, education, community, voluntary and private sector agencies.
In the most recent budget an additional €1 million was provided for the programme for 2011 which will enable the office to build on initiatives to date and bring momentum and new impetus to their activities. The areas to be targeted are developing both the number and range of training and awareness programmes, including the ASIST programme, to reach the most vulnerable in our communities; improving and standardising the response to deliberate self-harm presentations; developing the capacity of primary care to respond to suicidal behaviour and considering new models of response; and ensuring that helpline supports for those in emotional distress are co-ordinated and widely publicised. In each of these four areas an emphasis will be placed on the most vulnerable groups identified in Reach Out and more recent research. The details of these initiatives will be discussed and agreed with the office.
An initiative established by the former Minister of State, John Moloney, is See Change, run in co-ordination with the national stigma reduction campaign. The aims of See Change are to reduce the stigma associated with mental health problems and challenge discrimination in society; create an environment where people are more open and positive in their attitudes and behaviour towards mental health; promote a greater understanding and acceptance of and support for people with mental health problems; and empower individual people with experience of mental health problems to gain equality, respect and rights.
The total funding for mental health in 2010 was approximately €970 million. Innovation funding of €3 million was provide to Genio through the HSE to support the transition from institutional to person-centred care. A further €5 million will be provided for Jigsaw, an innovative community-based support service for young people.
When in government, Fianna Fáil established the office for mental health and disability. Special consideration was given in the budget to the mental health and disability sectors, which will ensure a maximum reduction of only 1.8% in the 2011 allocation for the sectors. The relatively lower reduction, compared to that in other health sectors, was an indication of the priority which the then Minister for State, John Moloney, afforded to this most important area.
It goes without saying that in areas of economic or health problems, research programmes are vital to finding longer-term solutions to many of the issues, and those affected have varying levels of mental health issues. The Minister of State will bear in mind the importance and necessity of ensuring co-ordination at European level between research programmes here and those under way in other member states. Perhaps such co-ordination and availability of information will give hope to those who live night and day with mental health issues and the threat and worry of suicide that a solution may be found, if not in all cases at least in a percentage of them. At this point in time, we could ask whether stem cell research holds out any prospect of better days ahead for the families unfortunately affected and afflicted by mental health issues and the threat of suicide.