Funded in large part by The 3Ts, the Suicide in Ireland Survey is an innovative research study of national importance which 3Ts hopes will help inform future suicide prevention strategies and programmes.
A team of researchers from St Vincent’s University Hospital, The School of Medicine, UCD, and the School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Population Science in UCD, led by Prof Kevin Malone, conducted a countrywide survey of lives lost to suicide in Ireland and, thanks to the generosity and openness of the families involved, were given the opportunity to present a more complete and informed view of the lived lives lost to Suicide, their stories and those of their families, both before and since their bereavement by suicide.
Spanning the years 2003 too 2008, the survey aimed to probe behind Irish suicide statistics, particularly data on young lives lost to suicide in the preceding five years. No research project had previously engaged with Irish families to learn about the lived lives lost to suicide but rather relied on statistics alone. Suicide rates amongst Ireland’s youth were at the time the fourth highest within the expanded EU, with, depending on how statistics are read, upwards of 600 suicide deaths in the Republic of Ireland (including open verdicts returned by coroners). Over 120 of these were young people.
The study employed a case-control design (120 cases & 120 living community controls). Cases included suicide deaths, particularly youths (2003 – 2008). Controls including age, sex, region, and mental illness matched living community population. Families were invited to donate a story of the lived life of their loved one. The project received ethics’ approval from St. Vincent’s Healthcare Medical Research Ethics Committee and informed consent was obtained from all families before they took part. In addition to families interviewed, the team retrieved an additional 250 cases from Coroners’ offices augmenting the database for suicide cohort. The compiled results were extracted from information attained from the Central Statistics Office and the National Census for 1995 and 2005. The authors retrieved national disaggregated age and sex-specific suicide mortality data from 1993-1998 and compared it with similar suicide mortality data from 2003-2008.
The team interviewed over 250 relatives in 23 counties about over 100 young lives lost to suicide in the preceding 5 years.
The Survey also saw a unique visual arts collaboration between the research team and textile artist, Seamus McGuinness, resulting in Lost Portraits.
Following themes emerged:
- Over 80% of young deceased disclosed suicide ideas “to someone” in 2 weeks prior to death
- 40% were first attempt completers (i.e. no previous suicide attempt)
- 70% coded for a diagnosable “mental illness”
- Obvious & apparent gaps identified in mental health services particularly for adolescents aged 16-20 yrs
- Bullying & physical assaults possibly more common than expected
- Alcohol identified as “significant factor” in one-sixths of deaths
- At least 10 suicide clusters identified i.e. over 40 additional suicide deaths, most common amongst younger people
- Concealed social gradient possibly identified (suicide risk appears significantly increased at margins of society & in deprived communities).
- Visual Arts Autopsy method is shedding additional new knowledge & understanding on the individual lived life.
The survey findings reveal implications for the provision of mental health services into the future including bereavement support, early education & intervention. The study also highlighted negative experiences with statutory services across the board by the deceased and their families. Gardai, the health / mental health services, education and coroners were each criticised by families.
The study was published in August 2012 in an edition of the Irish Medical Journal and is one of the first internationally to examine suicide rates in a less well documented cohort; children under the age of 18 years. The final report was published in May 2013.
Prof. Malone commented we now have a wave of young people in Irish society for whom suicide rates amongst their peers have increased substantially from those of their parents. Not only is suicide likely to remain the leading cause of death in these children in the next decade, but it will also be the leading cause of peer bereavement. Yet Mental Health services in Ireland are currently under-developed for this age group (16-18 year olds) transitioning from child to adult support in Ireland.
Globally youth suicide has increased in the past 50 years. In Ireland, suicide is the leading cause of death among the male population aged 15-24 years. Ireland has the fourth highest rate of youth suicide in the expanded EU after Lithuania, Finland and Estonia. Overall suicide rates in both males & females have increased. Suicide in under 15 year-olds is extremely rare in both decades, with average overall rates of 1.6/100,000. Suicide occurs significantly more often in boys and more commonly between ages 15 -17 in both sexes.
Professor Malone also commented that although rates of suicide in the under 15 age category are rare in both the UK and Ireland, the rate in Ireland, nonetheless, is higher than in the UK. Moreover, rates for 15-24 year-olds (teens & young adults) also indicates a 3-fold difference in rates.
3Ts raised extensive funding support for this Survey from a variety of corporate and private donors and received significant funding from The Ireland Funds, ESB Electric Aid, National Lottery, NOSP, “Be Not Afraid Wristband Campaign”, Padraig Harrington Foundation, Carphone Warehouse, Paul Stafford Foundation, Culture Ireland and the many 3ts supporters who donated or fundraised in aid of 3Ts to meet the costs of the Survey.