30th March 2003
Sinn Fein Ard Fheis 2003
Cathy Staunton - North Belfast, speaking on motions 82 and 83 on suicide
The statistics on suicide in Ireland are truly shocking. Two years ago over 600 Irish people took their own lives - 163 in the six counties and 448 in the 26. They become even more shocking when we realise that suicides are concentrated in a particular group of people - namely young men. Four fifths of those who take their own lives are male, while one quarter are aged between 15 and 24.
In the last twenty years, the number of young me in the six counties that kill themselves has more than doubled. The situation has got so bad that suicide is now the second highest cause of death among young men.
What should be done to reduce the number of these tragedies? First of all, people need to be aware of the issue. Here I would like to commend the proposers of these motions, the Oldpark Martyrs Cumann, North Belfast, the Ahem/Crowley Cumann Cork and the Cork Comhairie Ceantair, for ensuring that the issue is aired on the floor of this year's Ard Fheis. We all need to realise the seriousness of the problem if positive steps are to be taken to tackle it.
One of the effects of breaking down the taboo that surrounds suicide is that it will mean that people, and young men in particular, will be less reluctant to talk about their feelings. Women are more prepared top discuss their feelings with family, friends or their doctor. Young men, however, are often trapped in the myth that `Big Boys Don't Cry', that to openly show your emotions means that you are a weak person. As a result, they suffer whatever mental pain they are in on their own, and often that pain becomes so great that they take the decision to end it through taking their own lives.
However, it is not just a matter of getting young men to seek help, it is also a matter of ensuring that the appropriate helping services are available and accessible. I'm afraid to say that this is not the case at the moment.
For example, a third of people who commit suicide suffer from mental illness of have a family history of it. It is therefore extremely important in preventative terms that mental illness in young people is recognise as early as possible and dealt with appropriately. While there have been improvements in mental health services in Ireland, a lot more needs to be done in creating dedicated services for young people. These services need to stretch from an expansion of school counselling and programmes targeted at early school-leavers, who are at more risk of suicide, through to the development of residential units caring for adolescents with mental health problems, to the development of specialist psychiatric units for adolescents.
It was encouraging to see that as Minster for Health Bairbre de Brun took the issue of suicide very serious indeed, under her ministry, a revised Mental Health Promotion Strategy and Action Plan was developed.
The strategy includes a separate section on suicide prevention, and stresses the importance of promoting self-esteem, life and coping skills and working to increase social inclusion and participation. This is an important issue - if young men feel they are socially excluded, if they feel they are not participating in society, then they will be more likely to consider taking their own lives.
The fight for a fairer, more inclusive society that we are all involved in is not just a matter of political justice. It is a matter of helping to create a society from which our sons and brothers are less likely to want to escape.
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