A Samaritans vigil: suicide most common in first week in hospital

SUICIDE rates in health facilities are averaging three a year, a statistic experts believe could be reduced.

Figures obtained by the Sunday Tribune show that over the last five years, 15 patients have taken their own lives while in state care.

The number compares favourably with a total of 17 for one year alone in 2003, but experts still believe more can be done to reduce the rate of people taking their own lives.

According to the Health Service Executive (HSE) there were four cases each in 2005, 2007 and 2008, two cases in 2006 and just one case in 2004.

The southern region had the highest level of incidents with a total of seven, followed by Dublin Mid-Leinster, where there were five cases over five years.

"The most common time for people to end their lives by suicide would be the first week in hospital," explained Dr John Connolly, secretary and founding member of the Irish Association of Suicidology (IAS).

"The next most common would be in the month following discharge from hospital and when people are on leave from hospital.

"I think there is a lot more we can be doing. We do our best but there is quite a difference in services across the country.

"We don't have enough services for adolescents or young people."

According to a study carried out last year, rates of suicide in psychiatric in-patient care have "kept pace with that in the general population".

Rates within care institutions are also thought to correspond to those elsewhere.

"It looks broadly similar to other countries; the numbers are small and you would find a lot of variance from year to year," said Dr Connolly.

"We don't have any figures on outpatient suicides that are too precise. I think these would be broadly comparable with the UK because the systems are fairly similar. I don't think you can prevent all suicides but you could prevent more.

"I think [our approach] has developed. I think people are more clued up than they were in the past and much more aware of suicide risk assessment. But there is a lot more to be done."