The bottom line is that eight out of ten suicides are males

If you were new to the troubling subject of suicide in contemporary Ireland, then the recent Prime Time programme on the issue would not have helped you to a greater understanding.

In the usual Prime Time format, a short film by Eithne O'Brien was then followed in the studio by a discussion anchored by Keelin Shanley.

What these two well-educated young women didn't raise, either in the film or in the studio, was that eight out of 10 suicides in this Republic this year, last year and next year will be male.

In the film the words "people" and "youth" were used to describe those who had died from suicide. Although technically correct, as both men and women die by suicide, every year the dominant fact of Ireland's suicide death toll is that it is overwhelmingly male.

Any suicide, whether it is male or female, young or old, is a tragedy, but suicide on this island is mainly a killer of men, usually young men.

Like war, it is sexist and ageist. Young men die in war and young men are the main victims of suicide on this island every year.

Every year we lose to suicide the equivalent of our deployment to Chad. This is not a new development. It has been happening for decades.

In 1998 the late Professor Kelleher, a psychiatrist, was tasked by the Irish Government to produce a report on the issue of suicide.He noted in his landmark report that he was irked by the constraints of his discipline. He noted that something sociological was happening to our young men -- and he was a medic.

In the Prime Time studio discussion with Noel Smyth of the charity 3Ts (Turning the Tide of Suicide) and Paula Addison, widowed by suicide, it was the latter who mentioned that the issue should be focused on men.


"We mustn't mention that suicide is mainly a killer of men!" That, of course, didn't happen. To discuss suicide in this Republic sensibly would require one to focus on the needs and pain of men. Some of those short-lived young men may have been victims of female power, especially in terms of access to children.

Had eight out of 10 suicides in this Republic for the last 20 years been female, would Prime Time's treatment of the subject have been far more informative?

Towards the end of the Prime Time film, the alarming figures for deliberate self-harm (DSH) were brought into the mix. DSH is appalling and is clearly a cry for help. However, lacerating the lower arms is not a suicide attempt.

If you throw all these in together then you get nice, comforting gender symmetry.


The next up was Dr Ella Arnesman of the National Suicide Research Foundation Ireland (NSRF). Her presentation, though excellent and well-researched, indicated the muddled thinking of the State on this subject. The figures for DSH were thrown in with the suicide figures.

The disparity between the Scottish approach and Irish approach could not have been more stark. Scotland has recognised that suicide is a gender issue and has been very straight about that.

The Irish public information campaign on suicide prevention has been about as focused as putting up posters advertising cervical cancer screening in men's toilets.

After the conference I asked Dr Arnesman if, for example, the NSRF had looked at being an unmarried father with difficulties over access to a child as a possible issue in suicide among young males. I had come across this factor time and again when I was researching my book.

One young man in particular, I recalled, had taken his own life on his child's birthday. The child's mother had not allowed him to see his daughter since she was an infant.

Dr Arnesman said that the foundation had not considered this as a factor. That was January 2009. I hope they have looked at this issue since then. Again, no one in the NSRF sat down to deliberately exclude this subject. It just doesn't come into the collective consciousness of the organisation.

Read more at the Irish Independent.

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