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Suicide Clustering in Ireland

The author is a QUB Pol Sci Honours graduate and has written extensively on imperialism, national liberation struggles and class issues.


An 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. In fact, this is so well known 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 volatility, rising unemployment and increased suicide levels—among young males especially. For instance, around 50 of the 242 people registered in 2017 as taking their own lives were young men in this age group, according to statistics collated by the local statistics research office, NISRA. That does not mean that we are powerless to do anything.

A commonality among the six counties would be imperialism's impact and the post-conflict factor. During the 40+ year conflict in the northeast of Ireland, doctors were more than happy to prescribe anxiolytics and similar medication 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 within the last decade, with doctors much less willing to prescribe anxiolytics.

The Conflict Relationship

Academic studies suggest strongly that the 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). 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 percent 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 landline phones. 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.

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Economics and Hopelessness

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 phenomenon 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 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 cohort 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 more economically mobile and skilled younger workers. The unrealistic heightened expectations of a peace dividend in the north of Ireland did not materialize for working-class people, as like all attempts at a cosmetic re-branding of the capitalist system, there are very few winners.


Liam A Ryan (author) from Ireland on July 09, 2019:

Thank you for your comments

Lorna Lamon on July 09, 2019:

I was a child during the troubles of N Ireland and at one stage there were up to 12 suicides per week. There is a sense of hopelessness which still lingers in this beautiful country I love, and sadly its results are all too apparent today. Thank you for sharing this thought provoking peace.

RTalloni on July 09, 2019:

Because of the context of culture differences I'm not sure I understand all of your terminology as you intend it, but I know enough about the sad situation to agree it is heartbreaking. I recently read about FOMO, or a feeling of missing out, caused by materialism. Oh if only people in all cultures could be taught why they were created! Thank you for highlighting the concern and offering information on where to get help.

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