Suicide – otherwise fatal human suicidal behaviour – is believed by some to be more prevalent in N Ireland’s ‘deprived areas’. This may or may not be statistically correct. NISRA¹ admits that it may take up to three years to register a death as being a suicide. Hence our suicide statistics are an unreliable guide to the incidence here of self destruction. Unfortunately the ‘deprived areas’ argument is unhelpful regarding reduction of suicide here. Why?
Because the vast majority of residents of ‘deprived areas’ do not engage in suicidal behaviour. The issue then becomes how to identify the exceptional case, i.e. the vulnerable person living anywhere who may be at risk of death or serious injury by suicidal behaviour and to ‘intervene’ by offering and/or providing life-saving support to that individual.
Unfortunately, nowhere in the world, least of all in our local dysfunctional society has it been discovered how to locate, identify and engage with this individual other than in the even more exceptional case where a person is found ‘in the act of taking their own life’ and actively prevented from self-destruction. The fact is that in the vast majority of cases, death by suicide is thought about, planned and executed in secret.
Edwin Shneidman², PhD is considered to be the father of the science of suicidology. He described fatal suicidal behaviour as “the psychological drama that plays itself out in the suicidal mind . . . Suicide is an exclusively human response to extreme psychological pain, a lonely and desperate solution for the sufferer who can no longer see any alternatives”.
Understanding this is the beginning of wisdom regarding suicide prevention, intervention and postvention. Hence education, including study and research, as opposed to “training”, is the way ahead. Unfortunately here educational courses in suicidology are effectively non-existent. Modules are thought to be available at both universities in the context of students’ perceived occupational requirements. For example, courses in medicine, law, nursing, policing, social work and the like may offer short modules that focus upon specific occupational roles.
However what is not readily available for interested lay persons is access to educational courses in suicidology, as opposed to short ‘training courses’ (e.g. ASIST, SafeTalk, etc.), for community and voluntary sector employees and volunteers. Such courses at introductory / pre-certificate, full certificate, diploma, degree and master’s degree levels should be available so as to encourage the development of research into the suicide phenomenon where we live. Without such educational provision we, as a society, will continue to flounder in unaddressed confusion, as the incidence of suicide at all ages increases to our extreme detriment as individuals, families, communities and neighbourhoods.
REFERENCES 1 NISRA Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency. 2 Shneidman, E.S. (1998) The suicidal mind. London: Oxford University Press [Originated by Philip O’KeeffePhD©2017]