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Press Release

Press release

HRB publish a review of suicide and suicide prevention

6 March 2008

A new report published today by the Health Research Board (HRB) focuses on the level of suicide and deliberate self harm in Ireland, potential reasons behind suicide and reviews prevention measures. The report reveals that there was considerable under-reporting of suicide in official records between 1864 and 1980, which makes it difficult to state whether suicide rates have actually risen in the long term over 1864 - 2006 study period. However, evidence comparing clinical data and official data in the 1950s and 1960s does indicate that in Ireland at this time, actual suicide was three times greater than what was officially recorded.

A new report published today by the Health Research Board (HRB) focuses on the level of suicide and deliberate self harm in Ireland, potential reasons behind suicide and reviews prevention measures.

The report reveals that there was considerable under-reporting of suicide in official records between 1864 and 1980, which makes it difficult to state whether suicide rates have actually risen in the long term over 1864 ? 2006 study period. However, evidence comparing clinical data and official data in the 1950s and 1960s does indicate that in Ireland at this time, actual suicide was three times greater than what was officially recorded.

?Using this as a basis, we can determine broad long-term changes in Irish suicide rates', says Dr Dermot Walsh, Principal Investigator in mental health at the HRB. ?There was an increase from 1864?1914, followed by a decrease up until 1920. This was followed by an increase, which reached a peak between 1934 and 1938. Rates of suicide then dropped until 1968. Since 1968 there was a steady increase until 1989 and after that, rates accelerated to their highest point in 1998. In recent years there has been a slow decline between 2001 and 2006.

The findings show that Irish suicide rates among males are, and always have been, three to four times greater than those of females, which is in keeping with international experience. The increase in suicide in Ireland during the late 1980s and 90s was predominantly among males aged 15 -34 years. For example, suicide among males aged 15 -34 years increased from 44 in 1978, to 168 in 2003 compared to an increase from 20 to 35 among females of that age group during the same time period.

EU figures from 2005 show that Irish rates of suicide are found to be low when compared with all other European countries. The greatest demographic differences when comparing Ireland to the other EU countries are the disproportionately high number of Irish male suicides in the younger age groups and the lower rates among Irish people aged 65 years and older.

The reasons behind suicide and what influences it are not conclusive. ?People take their own lives for a multitude of reasons', says Dr Walsh. ?In truth, from the evidence available, we are unable to explain why young male suicide increased to such a high rate in 1998 any more than we can explain why it has fallen since. This presents significant problems when it comes to determining how we can prevent suicide', he says.

?Given the tragedy surrounding suicide it is understandable that people want to do something to address it and indeed a number of reports have been published in Ireland, task forces established and a variety of programmes have been introduced with the aim of reducing suicide rates', says Dr Walsh. ?The fundamental difficulty in prevention of suicide is that it is actually a rare event and the risk factors can be very common. This is borne out in the fact that many people report that the suicide of a relative or friend came ?out of the blue?', he explains.

A wide variety of initiatives, education schemes and programmes in general hospitals have been implemented to try and address suicide and deliberate self harm. However, evidence that shows the effectiveness of these schemes has yet to be confirmed.

The one significant factor that has been linked to suicide over time is alcohol. At least one in six suicides has been shown to be alcohol-related according to a European report by Anderson and Baumberg in 2006. There is also a close link between alcohol consumption trends in Ireland and long term ?wave changes? in suicide. A post-mortem study conducted in 2006 by Dr Bedford in the Health Service Executive also found raised alcohol levels in the blood of a significant number of suicide cases in the North East of Ireland.

?Controlling alcohol-related problems may therefore be the only evidence-based measure in the prevention of suicide and deliberate self harm', says Dr Walsh. ?A variety of reports have dealt with addressing alcohol-related problems, including the Report of the Strategic Task Force on Alcohol, 2004. But failure to implement measures that actually do work, such as increasing prices, reducing the availability of points of sale and tightening controls on advertising is disappointing and means that we are not dealing with a known and preventable factor in suicide', concludes Dr Walsh.

A full copy of the report, Suicide, attempted suicide and prevention in Ireland and elsewhere, is available in the publications section of the HRB website at www.hrb.ie/publications. Alternatively, for a hard copy of the report, please contact Fiona Bannon by emailing fbannon@hrb.ie or by phoning +353 1 2345148.

For more information contact:
Gillian Markey, Communications Manager
Health Research Board
m 00353 87 2288514
t 00353 1 2345103
e gmarkey(at)hrb.ie

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