Westmeath’s coroner expresses concern over high suicide rate

Westmeath’s coroner has expressed concern at the high rate of suicide in the county, with almost half the cases heard in the first three months of this year ruled as suicide.

Last year just over a quarter of cases for the entire year were given a verdict of suicide in Westmeath, and Dr Wilfred Hoover described the increase as significant, and called for communities to increase their awareness of the signs of depression.

One in four inquests each year for the last three years was ruled as suicide.

Dr Hoover was speaking outside this week’s sitting of Westmeath Coroner’s Court, where three out of five deaths before him occurred due to suicide.

All involved young men, aged under 30, and two of the men had been drinking before they deliberately took their own lives.

In one of those cases, the pathologist said alcohol would have influenced the young man’s mood.

Suicide is not an option, he said, adding that it causes immense loss to distressed families and “there is no need to go down that road”.

He urged families and communities to be on the look-out for changes in friends and family which could be a result of depression.

This includes changes in mood which may be masked in front of family members but might be more obvious to neighbours and friends.

“I’m sure a lot of families are concerned given the increasing number [of suicides] and the fact that their own offspring are in trouble in terms of employment,” he said.

While provision could be better, he said there is a considerable help available in the community, provided by voluntary organizations or supported by the HSE.

He said as many people as possible should attend suicide awareness programmes, like the HSE’s ASIST programme.

He also said that some coverage of suicide in the media is better than none.

Important concern about copycat suicides must be balanced with the need for the community to be aware that there is a problem and help out as best they can, he said.

He said current figures do not bode well for the rest of the year.

“I hope that it would start showing a downward trend, starting immediately but that’s being hopeful because figures don’t tally with optimism for the moment,” he said.

“Hopefully when things improve in general, those numbers will also come down,” he added.

Suicide has multiple causes, he said but added that he was sure financial pressure has a role to play in the significant number of people taking their own life.

He said people are affected by economic issues from the ravages of inflation - most of which he attributed to austerity measures - to the lack of employment and lack of income.


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