The number of confirmed deaths by suicide in Mayo in 2010 shot up by over 50 per cent from the figure for 2009.
There were 21 confirmed cases of suicide in Mayo last year, up eight from the figure of 13 for 2009. That was an increase from the 2008 figure of ten.
These shocking figures were revealed at a meeting of Westport Town Council this week where a presentation was given by Michael Ryan of 50/50 Phone A Friend, a suicide prevention/awareness group.
Last year’s figure for suicides in Mayo placed the county in the top four in the country, together with Kerry, Monaghan and Leitrim. Nationally there were 487 deaths by suicide in 2010 whilst, more alarmingly, there were in excess of 12,000 suicide attempts in 2009.
In an extensive and informative presentation, Michael Ryan told Westport Town Councillors that it was crucial that attitudes towards suicide changed.
“The most important thing is to end the stigma,” he said. “In a survey 50 per cent of those surveyed said they wouldn’t admit if they were depressed. Drink driving is an example of how attitudes can change. It is a community problem and it needs a community response.”
He also gave an example of how more state aid might help.
“In 2011 €8.7m was the budget for suicide prevention in Ireland. This year’s budget for road safety was €41m. A lot of the organisations involved in suicide awareness and prevention are self-funding.
“Last year was the lowest road deaths in Ireland on record but we need a similar campaign on suicide prevention. Two and a half times more people died from suicide than road deaths last year,” he said.
Mr Ryan also told the meeting that, nationally, 93 per cent of men who die from suicide are over the legal alcohol limit for driving at the time.
Cllr Tereasa McGuire said that it was absolutely vital that attitudes towards suicide changed if the issue was to be tackled.
“The statistics have been proven. The big area in Ireland is males between the ages of 16 and 25. Spike Milligan, a man who suffered from manic depression himself, said ‘suicide is a permanent problem to a temporary problem’. We won’t be found wanting as a council. We need to change the attitude that prevails, especially in the older generation, that suicide is an act of great cowardice. It’s not, it is an act of great desperation.”
Cllr Brendan Mulroy said it was incumbent on the council to show leadership on the issue.
“It is prevalent for a lot of families and rather than paying lip service we should go and make more than a token gesture and every councillor here should sign up for the leadership assist programme which is first aid for suicide. It lasts for half a day, maybe a full day but I think if we, as a council, did that we’d be showing great leadership on the issue.”