Fianna Fáil has today published a new policy document on suicide prevention, entitled Actions Speak Louder than Words: A Structural Approach to a Societal Issue.
The policy, which has been written by Seanad Spokesperson on Health, Senator Marc Mac Sharry, sets out a number of ambitious reforms that should be undertaken to radically change the approach of the government and health service to mental health issues and aims to reduce the incidence of suicide in Ireland by 30% over 10 years.
Senator Mac Sharry said: “We are living in an era where suicide is occurring at an unprecedented level. Figures from the CSO show 525 people died by suicide in 2011, up 7% on the previous year with men accounting for 84% of cases. Those working in this area fear that with a large number of ‘undetermined cases’ the number of deaths by suicide has actually gone beyond 600. To put it bluntly, this is a public health emergency.
“It is clear that the approach that has been taken to date in tackling suicide is not working’’ he added. Actions Speak Louder than Words, which was developed after a seven month research’ and consultation process sets out clear reforms.
“Seven years ago Government policy on mental health , ‘A vision for change’ outlined the need for a minimum of 8.2% of the health Budget to be ring fenced for mental health yet today only €733m or 5.5% of the Health Budget is allocated to this area. The National Office for Suicide prevention is to receive some €8.1m yet we have 20 percent more incidence of suicide today than in 2006.
“However, we know this is not simply about money. One of the reasons behind the impressive success in reducing deaths on our roads was the co-ordinated national focus via a properly resourced independent body in the form of the Road Safety Authority. Therefore we are proposing a radical reform of the structure of the NOSP. Under this plan it would become independent of the HSE with special status and access in the Department of Health, a ring-fenced budget, performance targets, flexibility in recruitment of experts, and the authority to influence government policy in key departments including Education, Justice, Finance and Social Welfare as well as Health.
“The number of Suicide Prevention Resource Officers needs to be dramatically increased and we propose that at least one officer and one assistant should be posted for each county, with the most populous counties of Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway receiving more.
“Actions Speak Louder than Words contains the objective of urgently creating a new national policy on suicide prevention with specific targets and deadlines to reduce suicide by 30% within ten years. The research process included consultation with those least accounted for in pre existing research including Secondary Schools, Gardai, Community Centres, Youth Clubs, Suicide Prevention Organisations, Counsellors and Psychotherapists, other related interest groups , individuals and stakeholders in addition to a review of existing policies in Ireland and other countries.
Among the proposals contained in Actions Speak Louder than Words: A Structural Approach to a Societal Issue are:
- An NOSP 24 hour hotline to be established, staffed by trained professionals
- Adequately Resource all GPs to provide comprehensive help to individuals at risk of dying by suicide
- Implement a system of GP practice whereby the prescription of antidepressant medication has to be reviewed on a monthly basis
- Establish out-of-hours emergency social worker teams
- Reverse the Government’s decision to abolish dedicated Guidance Counselling in Secondary Schools
- Introduce SPHE into the Senior-Cycle in Secondary Schools
- Extend the provision of Guidance Counselling to Primary Schools
- Regulation of Counsellors and Psychotherapists via mandatory registration to a statutory body for Psychological Therapy
- 7.5% Levy on Sale of all alcohol off-sales
- Implore all forms of media to take a more responsible role in the coverage of suicide
Senator Mac Sharry added: “On a personal note, I undertook this work because I believe public policy makers can help prevent more and more families being shattered by the loss of a loved one to suicide. Depression, self-harm, substance abuse can all be overcome with the right supports in place and a fresh political approach.”
“In recent years there has been a marked increase in the rate of middle aged male suicides and the tragic loss of young teenagers to suicide. The people that I have met while producing this policy framework are doing extraordinary work in supporting people who are living with depression and other mental health difficulties and they also support families who have lost a loved one to suicide. They are working in very difficult circumstances and they can be supported better by government, the health service and society as a whole. The legislature must provide the correct structure and resources to those engaged in suicide prevention if they are to succeed in peeling back the blindfold on the phenomenon of loss of life through suicide in our society.
“There are no quick fixes or easy solutions to dealing with mental health issues and suicide but the scale of our response must match the scale of the problem. We have a long way to go to achieve that but I believe this document sets out a clear, effective and fresh policy approach.”