TWENTY-five years ago a proposal to decriminalise suicide at a Young Fine Gael conference resonated with Deputy Dan Neville.
After three bills which he introduced in the Senate, President Mary Robinson signed the act to make suicide no longer a crime into law on July 1, 1993.
In the same year Mr Neville was a co-founder of the Irish Association of Suicidology. Over the next two decades he has worked to remove the stigma surrounding the whole area of mental ill health and suicide. His work in this area has defined his political career and such is his commitment many think he has been personally affected.
“Everybody I meet around the country asks me why? There is a bit of presumption that I am bereaved by suicide, which I am not.
“I think maybe subconsciously It came from my mother, Esther, who was a nurse in the psychiatric hospital in St Joseph’s before she got married. We would have heard a lot from my mother about her work.
“Everybody advised me to stay a hundred miles away from it, that it would hurt people and it would have a serious negative impact on my political opportunities and my support. I didn’t see it that way,” said Mr Neville.
He says they have come a long way in promoting suicide prevention, research and helping the bereaved of suicide but still have a long way to go.
“They would be higher now – an average of around 600 a year. Officially it would be much lower but we know some coroners will not bring in a verdict of suicide or avoid bringing in a verdict of suicide.
“We also know that some deaths from suicide that are not identifiable, especially in the area of drowning and other areas as well, which might be seen as an accident.
“At a conference last year we had a debate on this area and one of the contributors said one coroner in London brought in 30 verdicts of accidental hanging,” said Mr Neville.
The most recent figures from the National Office of Suicide Prevention are from 2013.
“They are made on the basis of per 100,000 – the figure for Limerick city is 21 per 100,000. It is the highest in the country. Wexford is 18.9. County Limerick is 11.2,” said Mr Neville.
They are in stark contrast to Dun Laoghaire, Fingal, Dublin city at 4.9, 3.9 and 9.9 respectively.
“The campaigns we do are for people to seek help and provide adequate services for people in crisis who need help. The big challenge is to remove the stigma surrounding the whole area of mental ill health and suicide because people don’t seek help because of the stigmas.
“Over 80 per cent of those who die by suicide have been suffering from a mental health problem,” said Mr Neville.
The media has a part to play in the Irish Association of Suicidology’s work but it can often do more harm than good.
“We are trying to raise the profile of the issue of suicide but we are also concerned about how suicide is depicted by various media and others because of the copycat issue.
“Mental illness is more open now but not as open as much as we would want. The campaign to destigmatise mental illness should be stepped up as much as possible. I would like the media to give the area more exposure. If it is being destigmatised people will seek help.
“The media should be conscious of not causing further suicide and not hurting the family.
“Our problem is tabloids ignore it. We want suicide discussed as an issue in a way that will not cause further suicides. We are appalled at some of the things we see in the media,” said Mr Neville, who mentions a number of instances including a reporter taking a photograph without the family’s permission.
“A journalist called to a house only a day or two after the family were bereaved. They were hesitant but he was very nice and he asked could he see a photograph.
“He said he, ‘just wanted to see what the young person looked like’. He took a picture with his phone and it was in all the papers the next day,” said Mr Neville.
Those coping with issues around mental health, depression, self-harm and suicide can contact the Samaritans (116 123), Console (1800 201 890) or Aware (1890 303 302).