Tag Archives: suicide

Short-lived impulses – Irish Times comments on US study on suicide

14 Feb

Reported in the Irish Times today, research by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the US indicates that it is possible that in many cases of suicide the person who died had no intention of taking their life until a very short time before the event itself.

Almost 25 per cent of the 15-34 year olds studied said they decided to kill themselves less than five minutes before their ‘nearly lethal’ attempt. Only one in eight had made the decision a day or more before attempting suicide.

The study indicates that many attempted suicides are reactions to a temporary crisis.

Writing about the study, Padraig O’Morain, who is accredited as a counsellor by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, suggests that young people need to be educated on how to handle distress in non-lethal ways – before the impetus for an impulsive suicide attempt arises.

Read the article, which links to the US study, here


Men’s Sheds – Men don’t talk face to face: they talk shoulder to shoulder

8 Feb

Did you know that communities across Ireland are setting up Men’s Sheds – places where men can socialise, network, make friends and share skills? Men’s Sheds aim to recreate the atmosphere of “real life” sheds – safe spaces where men can feel confident to discuss and exchange information.

We all know that men are less likely to talk about their problems or feelings than women, which can aggravate problems with mental health.  The Men’s Shed movement, which originated in Australia, wants to help men to reach out to other men and become valued and valuable members of their community.

Shed with two red flowerpots

A Men’s Shed is described as any community-based, non-commercial organisation that is open to all men and provides a safe, friendly and inclusive environment where the men can gather and/or work on meaningful projects at their own pace, in their own time and in the company of other men and where the primary objective is to advance the health and well-being of the participating men. Men’s Sheds are an innovative mix of community education and health promotion projects.

Read about Men’s Sheds in Ireland and find your nearest Shed – or get involved in setting one up: http://www.menssheds.ie/

And check out Australia’s Shed TV, which features regular videos on DIY, cooking and nutrition, health topics and lots more: http://www.theshedonline.org.au/news/index

Are we finally opening up about mental health issues?

7 Feb

It seems that every time the topic of depression, anxiety and suicide has been raised on the airwaves recently, the floodgates have opened: people are desperate to talk about their mental health problems and extremely grateful that the issue is being broached in the first place.

Gary Speed’s suicide, Andy O’Brien’s depression, Kate Fitzgerald’s letter to the Irish Times and RTE’s The Frontline programme on mental health are just some of the triggers that have prompted people to take to the airwaves and letters pages in recent months to address the issue of our mental health and to share their experiences, often with devastating and moving honesty.

Continuing this national conversation, a listener rang into the Tom Dunne show on Newstalk today in response to an interview with Caroline McGuigan of Suicide or Survive. You can listen to Neil’s searingly honest account of his suicide attempt of 14 years ago and his ongoing battle with anxiety here: http://www.newstalk.ie/2012/featured-5-slideshow-homepage/suicide-or-survive-caller-opens-up-to-tom/

Neil made the crucial point that we need to talk more about this stuff as a country. More people commit suicide in Ireland each year than die on the roads, yet we lack a co-ordinated, high-profile, well-resourced campaign that addresses our nation’s mental health and seeks to remove the stigma attached to depression and mental health problems.

Could it be that the high-profile media attention devoted to this subject over the past months marks a welcome sea change in attitudes? If so, what can we do to exploit that momentum and make this an ongoing and nation-wide conversation?

Breakfast on Newstalk tackles depression

5 Feb

There was a huge reaction to Newstalk Breakfast’s discussion on depression on 24 January. Listen to the podcast here: http://www.newstalk.ie/2012/programmes/all-programmes/breakfast/discussion-on-depression-2/

Ivan and Chris spoke to Agnes Rowley, a depression sufferer and a volunteer for the last 10 years with Aware, and Dr Declan Lyons, Consultant Psychiatrist at St Patrick’s University, about the illness.

Agnes emphasised the importance of reaching out and talking to someone if you are depressed. She also noted the importance of family support, citing Aware’s three-pronged approach of patient, relative and doctor. Once again, the point was made that we need to talk to children about their mental, not just their physical, health and well-being.

The Irish charity Aware aims to create a society in which those with depression and their families are understood and supported, are free from stigma and have access to a range of appropriate therapies to enable them to reach their full potential.  It provides support services for those with depression and their loved ones, including:

“Operation Transformation for the mind” – RTE’s The Frontline on depression

2 Feb

RTE’s The Frontline on 16 January looked at how Ireland can end the stigma surrounding mental health. You can watch the programme, in which participants gave dignified and candid accounts of their experiences of depression and suicide, here: http://www.rte.ie/player/#!v=1131292.  This prime-time programme devoted solely to the topic of mental illness is very timely and welcome.

Once again, the message was that we need an overhaul of our approach and attitudes to mental health. Whereas the number of road deaths halved between 2000 and 2010, the number of suicides was 486 in both of those years. Broadcaster George Hook and others made the point that we need a champion for suicide prevention in the model of the road safety movement.

As Pat Kenny put it, we need an Operation Transformation for the mind.

Phyllis Mac Namara spoke honestly and movingly about her husband Michael’s suicide and his rapid disintegration in the face of work-related anxiety. She believes that men, in particular, see their worth as connected with work, and that it is possible to live beside someone who is experiencing huge anxiety but to miss those changes. Phyllis recounted how, despite realising her husband was having a breakdown and the efforts of their GP, there was nowhere for Michael to seek appropriate help. She also described her realisation that anyone is capable of taking their own life having lost touch with reality through intense pressure.

Dr Ian Daly, HSE clinical director of mental health, said it is possible to do more with less despite cutbacks. At present, staff are poorly aligned based on the old asylum-based system, but current practice is about early intervention. In addition, the HSE needs to work closely with GP colleagues on a system of integrated care and is already partnering formally with volunteer partners.

Minister of State for Health Kathleen Lynch commented that there has been poor and slow implementation of the government’s Vision for Change since 2006. She agreed that it is possible to do more with less by providing a different type of service in which the bulk of resources is no longer tied up in big institutions and more is done within the community. She echoed the point made by Phyllis that the middle ground between GP and the acute unit is missing. Minister of State Lynch cited as a success story the Wexford psychiatric service in which the GP and community teams are key; voluntary acute admissions have fallen in that region by 50 per cent. She referred to the 35m euro being invested in mental health community teams, counselling and psychiatric services etc. Minister of State Lynch reiterated that it is essential that we talk about emotional well-being as a human condition.

JP Swaine of the First Fortnight music and arts festival, which aims to use the arts as a means to engage people with this topic, described suicide as an outcome, whereas mental health is a process that can be changed. As one in four of us will experience mental health problems, we need to tackle this as a community, not as a matter of them and us.

Other speakers included Ciaran Austin of Console; Joan Freeman of Pieta House; Michael Barron of BeLonGTo, the national service for gay and lesbian youth; Orla Barry of Mental Health Reform; David Carton of Aware; Madge Fogarty of the Post-Natal Depression Support Group; and Dr Eleanor Fitzgerald, a Mayo coroner and GP.

Andy O’Brien sparks Newstalk discussion on depression

2 Feb

Once again, the case of a high-profile sportsman who suffers from depression has brought the illness into the public domain. In the same week as the inquest into the sad death of Gary Speed, Leeds defender Andy O’Brien’s winning back of his first-team place after receiving treatment for depression sparked a discussion on Newstalk’s lunchtime programme yesterday.

Jonathan Healy talked to psychiatrist Brian Sweeney about practical steps to help those with depression, the concept of ‘mental fitness’ and Irish attitudes to the illness.

Practical advice

Dr Sweeney listed the following as signs that someone may be suffering from depression:

  • Sleep disturbance
  • Weight changes – generally weight gain
  • Loss of interest in activities usually enjoyed
  • Unusual reactive emotions eg anger
  • Strange thoughts
  • Odd behaviour eg over-drinking, withdrawing from people

If you suspect a close friend or family member of having depression, Dr Sweeney recommends as a first step simply having a good chat with the person to assess what help they may need. That help may involve talking to a GP or a counsellor or to a psychotherapist or psychologist.

Mental fitness and men with depression

With women more likely to be treated in hospital for psychological depression, Dr Sweeney explained that it’s simply part of the male psyche to be hardwired to suppress these responses. Instead of denying these emotions, men should realise that facing their emotional life is a sign of inner strength.

In Australia, where there has been a sustained effort across media to address the problem of depression, the suicide rate has fallen by 20 per cent in the last 15 years. A key to these efforts has been giving men, particularly vulnerable young men, easy access to counselling in places such as clubs and gyms that address depression in the context of overall mental fitness. Mental fitness involves addressing mental health in a similar way to physical health, whereby we accept that getting physical exercise is a necessary and positive thing.

Changing attitudes to depression in Ireland

In Ireland, which has yet to embrace this concept of mental fitness, stigma still surrounds depression and suicides continue to rise. This is despite the work of organisations such as Aware, which have been campaigning for years to encourage discussion about the illness.

Dr Sweeney explains that we need to accept that it is normal and natural to sometimes feel depressed and that it’s okay to go through times in our lives when we are highly stressed. There are ways of dealing with this – with the most useful approach being to share our problem with people. We need to normalise this aspect of our lives in Ireland. This approach need not cost more money but just requires a reallocation of resources. For example, in Australia, web-based systems are used to help people work through their depression.

Dr Sweeney mentioned that in the workplace, it is difficult for managers to deal with employees who suffer from depression – but we need to identify when people are genuinely unwell. The ultimate reaction of Leeds United to Andy O’Brien’s illness and Andy’s braveness in talking about his problem contribute to enouraging discussion and breaking down the stigma that sometimes surrounds depression.

Listen to the podcast of the interview here: http://media.newstalk.ie/podcast/28452/popup