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Coverage of suicide in Ireland

Last week, Turning The Tide (3Ts) Against Suicide released a report on suicide in Ireland.

Six years in development, the report aimed to delve behind the suicide statistics by interviewing families affected. These families very generously gave valuable insights into the lives lost to suicide in what must have been a deeply personal and tough experience for them.

Identifying factors

The report identified some common themes in death by suicide in Ireland. While this seems reasonable, such reporting of research is then subject to over-simplified media coverage. In a quest to find some answers as to why people take their own lives, these themes are plucked by the media and used as sound bites. Each one then treated as a principal factor.

When it comes to understanding why anyone would take their own life we have to take account of each unique set of life circumstances, social environment, any possible biological vulnerability, psychological outlook and the interaction of all of these factors.

Limited understanding

An article in Irish Catholic at the end of last week referring to this report interpreted the need for young people to be taught about “suffering bravely and without complaint”.

The Irish Catholic writer picked up on some of the stories told by family members in the course of the research – essentially life events that may help us to understand what was going on for the person who had taken their life. A leap was then made identifying those life events and the person’s death as cause and effect respectively.

The article presented a one-dimensional understanding of suicide implied by the statement that “taking your own life because a teacher had once beaten you, or a tutor gave you a humiliating dressing-down is an absolutely disproportionate, and indeed wrong, response to a bad event” which is both unhelpful and hurtful for anyone who has known the pain of suicide bereavement.

While culture is implicated in population suicide rates and trends, to suggest that we can teach our way out of suicide displays a distinct lack of understanding of both public culture and human nature.

Move towards hope

The thing that can make a positive difference for young men in Ireland today is hope, and a change in the national conversation towards hopefulness, resilience and shared humanity.

Telling people to suffer in silence is a step backwards. Whatever the unique and complicated mix of factors that bring anyone to contemplate suicide, the most likely way to get beyond those feelings is through engaging with another human being.

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