Finance Bill 509

Deputy Dan Neville

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I would like to deal with the issue of the resources allocated to mental heath and suicide prevention services. It is appropriate to speak on this issue in light of the Monageer report published yesterday.

I will refer briefly to it because I strongly believe if intervention has taken place in the case of that family, that tragedy could have been avoided. I will outline briefly why I believe that. The man in this case was highly suicidal. No suicide assessment of his condition was done but it should have been done. Suicide is a complex issue. A headline carried in one of today’s newspapers states that it was that man’s level of debt that caused him to take his life. That is a simplistic and dangerous comment. There is never a simple explanation for suicide.

That man had shown warning signs of suicidal tendencies. If his condition had been assessed, I am certain intervention would have occurred. Such intervention would include psychiatric intervention, which would have ensured that he, and therefore his family, would have survived. The person who picked up on his suicidal condition was the funeral undertaker. She became extremely concerned about his condition. The concern may not have been overtly expressed that he was in danger of taking his life but she knew there was a danger in this respect.

I will outline some of the suicidal warning signs I have identified in regard to this man’s experience. He was a young man with a young family making detailed funeral arrangements. That may not indicate suicidal tendencies but combined with the fact that his brother hanged himself a month prior to that, the risk of suicide within his family increased. His father died 12 months before that, another factor that could increase the risk of suicide in his family. They were a very socially isolated family, which is also an issue around suicide. He suffered a disability and was unemployed; there is a higher incidence rate of suicide among the unemployed. He suffered from a psychological and emotional disability and had a physical disability in regard to his sight. He also had financial problems. Having regard to that combination of facts, if a risk assessment of his suicidal ideation has been made, immediate intervention should have taken place. Social services knew the history of and the difficulties faced by this family. Combined with all the issues I mentioned, that person was highly suicidal.

No psychiatric intervention was made because no intervention was made during that weekend. If that man had been psychiatrically assessed and psychiatric intervention was made, I believe his life, and therefore the lives of his wife and two children, would have been saved. I take strong exception to somebody saying that intervention would probably not have saved his life.

I make this point in the context of this Bill because the necessary resources are not available to do what I outlined should have happened in the circumstances surrounding this tragedy. I have seen this happen in similar circumstances, although perhaps not as tragic a familicide. I am aware of people who were highly suicidal, whose families had alerted the authorities of their suicidal ideation and the danger they might commit suicide, but the services were not in place, no intervention was made and they took their own lives, a tragedy with which their families have to live for the rest of their own lives.

Funding is needed for services in this area. It is highly relevant in light of what I have said that when funding of €15 million for an out-of-hours support service was mentioned yesterday, the Minister concerned immediately knocked it on the basis of financial considerations. Why does that happen in regard to issues concerning social services, suicide and psychiatric illness?

I welcome the fact that the Minister for Social and Family Affairs allocated €11 million towards addressing difficulties experienced by families due to the rise in unemployment in this recession. Such funding will assist families to deal with costs associated with a bereavement and general difficulties they experience in their new circumstances having become unemployed. I support 100% what is being done and what I am saying is no criticism of that. Why can such funding not be made in response to the publication of the report on this tragedy? It would require only an extra €4 million in addition to what the Minister, Deputy Hanafin, has done. I am regularly asked why such provision cannot be made.

Some 460 official deaths by suicide were recorded in 2007 – we do not have the figures for last year – but the incidence of suicide is under-reported. Most experts say that the incidence of suicide is nearer to 600. Last year 279 people died on our roads. Some 600 deaths by suicide occurred as against 279 deaths on our roads. Just over €3 million is allocated to the National Suicide Prevention Office to deal with suicide prevention, but this year the allocation to that office is being reduced by 12.5%. The allocations to all the voluntary organisations dealing with suicide prevention, suicide bereavement and issues in that area are being cut by 12.5% this year.

During periods of recession – we have had recessions going back to the 1890s, including during Durkheim’s time, and in 1929 – there is an increase in the incidence of suicide and psychiatric illness. The Government should respond to that need. It rightly responds to the needs of those who are unemployed by allocating finances towards their unemployment benefit. The Minister has responded also to family and other crises that arise because of unemployment. Why can the Government not respond to the need for suicide prevention and help those who self-harm, attempt suicide and suffer from psychiatric conditions, especially depression? A higher level of psychiatric difficulties are experienced by people who lose their jobs, especially among young or middle aged people. I do not want to exaggerate these difficulties. There is also greater pressure on those who anticipate losing their jobs or their homes, and on those who actually lose their homes. These events exacerbate the psychological, emotional and psychiatric difficulties people experience, yet the Government responds by reducing the amount of resources allocated to provide for their needs to achieve a saving.

Some people ask me why the Government does that. It does it because it is not a political issue. I was on the doorsteps last night, as I am sure were many Members, and the people raised the issue of the health services, but did they raise the issue of psychiatric services, given that one in four people suffers a psychiatric illness at some stage in his or her life? It is not a political issue. The Government does not respond to the non-political needs of our people because there are no votes in them.

Deputy Dick Roche

The Deputy’s contribution was well put together. I compliment him on it. I will make sure the Minister reads it. It was a calm and appropriate response on the day after that dreadful report was published.