By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The number of suicides in Ireland reached a record of 504 last year and it is now responsible for more deaths than traffic accidents, according to figures released by the Central Statistics Office.
The 15 percent increase has shocked suicide-prevention bodies, which are seeking an urgent response from the Department of Health. The AWARE group, which campaigns for people suffering from depression, has even called for a central body to coordinate action on the problem.
Despite the booming Celtic Tiger economy, better living standards and virtually full employment, the suicide rate continues to soar, with male deaths consistently higher than for women.
"The figures are extremely distressing. It is very difficult to see why the figures should be increasing so rapidly, particularly among young men," said a County Mayo consultant psychiatrist, Dr. John Connolly, who is secretary of the Irish Association of Suicidology.
"In the under-34 age group, eight men to every woman commits suicide," Connolly said. "It is going to be very difficult to turn that around. I don’t think there are any short-term answers to it."
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Of the 504 suicides last year, 421 — or 84 percent — were men. Deaths from traffic accidents totaled 429.
Suicide is now the biggest cause of death for those aged between 15 and 24, with 120 men taking their life, compared with 18 women in that category.
While acknowledging that in the past there was an underreporting of suicides, Connolly said that he was "pretty positive" the 15 percent increase was a real one and not just a greater recording of suicide verdicts by coroners’ inquests.
"In the early 1980s, part of the increase that occurred then was probably better reporting, but we can take it now that our suicide statistics returned by the CSO are as accurate as it is possible for them to be," he said.