A suicide strategy that aims to save lives

West Cork Fine Gael TD Jim Daly, Minister for Mental Health and Older People, says World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10 is an opportunity to reach out to those who are vulnerable
A suicide strategy that aims to save lives
Sinead Glennon, Head of Mental Health Services, Cork/Kerry Community Healthcare, Minister for Mental Health and Older People Jim Daly TD and Resource Officer for Suicide Prevention, Martin Ryan at the launch of Connecting for Life Cork, a suicide and self-harm reduction plan for all of Cork which has been led by Cork Kerry Community Healthcare. Picture Darragh Kane

September 10 marks World Suicide Prevention Day. This aims to raise awareness that suicide is preventable, to improve education and information about suicide awareness, and to decrease stigmatization regarding suicide.

Some excellent work and initiatives have been established in recent years to address these areas. This year marked the fifth annual Green Ribbon campaign, a national campaign to get Ireland talking about mental health.

According to a national survey, this campaign has been successful in increasing conversations about mental health and combating stigma, with 9 in 10 people agreeing it is important to talk about our mental health.

We also have the ‘Little Things’ national mental health and wellbeing campaign, which focuses on sharing evidence-based, simple and powerful day-to-day steps — little things we can all do to protect our own mental health, and support the people we care about. People are encouraged to eat and sleep well, take regular exercise, talk about their problems, drink less alcohol and stay in touch and spend time with others — all proven to improve mental health.

Other resources include yourmentalhealth.ie, a website for information with a directory of support services, along with general information on mental health and how best to support yourself and those around you. There is also emotional support available at all times through the Samaritans freephone number, 116 123.

However, work in this area has to continue and progress. 800,000 people worldwide die due to suicide every year and it is the second leading cause of death in those aged 15-29. There are indications that for each adult who dies of suicide, more than 20 others may have attempted it. We can and must ensure that support is provided to those who need it, and in this way we should be able to reduce these numbers significantly.

We know suicide is a complex problem. It is important to recognise that addressing suicidal behaviour means supporting people in many different ways.

This Government is determined to reduce the incidence of suicide in Ireland. One of the key ways in which we are addressing this is by increasing the available budget for the National Office for Suicide Prevention, from around €4 million in 2011 to over €11 million today. This has helped launch and implement Connecting for Life, our national suicide prevention strategy, which sets out a vision of an Ireland where fewer lives are lost through suicide, and where communities and individuals are empowered to improve their mental health and wellbeing. It is designed to coordinate and focus the efforts of a broad range of Government departments, state agencies, non-statutory organisations and local communities in suicide prevention.

It aims to do so through seven goals. These focus on improving understanding; building resilient communities; focusing on priority groups; ensuring better access to support; high quality services; reducing access to means; and supporting better data and research.

Ongoing research and evaluation in this area also helps us understand what will most benefit those who may be experiencing suicidal ideation. This requires a coordinated effort across many different sectors and levels of society: service providers, communities, families and friends.

With this in mind, I am glad to say that, in line with the national strategy, a series of local action plans for Connecting for Life have been developed across the country in 2016 and 2017 to fully capture the thumbprint of local people and organisations. I firmly believe we can most effectively reach all of the members within a community by harnessing the power within that community itself.

These plans recognise that protective factors are just as important as risk factors; that increasing the positive factors and strengthening connections have been shown to improve resilience; and that it is crucial we focus on resourcing the critical role communities play in suicide prevention. The plans reinforce and support this role and the supports that can be given to vulnerable individuals from the community, such as social support, follow-up care, tackling stigma and supporting those bereaved by suicide, particularly around what is needed specifically in this community.

In local plans such as this, we truly witness the power of local community collaboration.

Part of tackling suicide in Ireland is recognising we have to invest in our mental health services on a whole. Mental health remains a priority care programme for the Government. Since 2012, around €140 million has been added to the HSE mental health budget, now over €850 million, a significant increase, and the Programme for Partnership Government gives a clear commitment to further increasing this annually, as resources allow.

The agreed 2017 national mental health development priorities cover much-needed improvement of counselling services, enhanced Community Mental Health teams and improved out-of-hours response and Liaison Services. Work is also ongoing in such areas as Psychiatry of Later-Life, Perinatal Mental Health, ADHD in Adults and Children, and Dual Diagnosis of those with Mental Illness and Substance Misuse. Over 1,100 new mental health posts have been approved over the period 2012-15, including 270 dedicated to CAMHS.

I want to highlight that there is a great deal of commitment in many sectors to tackle this serious health and social issue. It is important we continue to work together, at all levels, to identify people at risk and ensure appropriate services are in place to provide the help and support needed.

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