Child & Teenage Suicide

April 17th, 2008 - Pat Breen

Speech by Pat Breen TD to the Council of Europe debate on child and teenage suicide in Europe

Fine Gael Deputy Foreign Affairs Spokesman Pat Breen TD has called for a Europe-wide suicide prevention plan with a particular emphasis on preventing child and teenage suicide.

Addressing the Council of Europe debate on child and teenage suicide in Europe on behalf of the European People’s Party in Strasbourg, Deputy Breen, the Deputy Leader of the Irish Delegation to the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, said:

“I am honoured to have the opportunity to speak here today on behalf on the EPP Party and I congratulate the Rapporteur Bernard Marquet, for bringing this Report on Child and Teenage Suicide in Europe before the Parliamentary Assembly.

“The political will must be forthcoming from all member states to provide the necessary supports because this crisis is at epidemic levels and it can no longer be ignored. The World Health Organisation estimated in 2002 that by the year 2020 there will be approximately 1.53 million people who will die from suicide. That represents an average of one suicide every 20 seconds. Suicide is the fifth leading cause of injury or death to children in Europe. More young people die by suicide than die in road accidents. In Ireland in 2006, 368 people died on Irish Roads, while 409 people died by suicide.

“There are many reasons why young people die by suicide. Of the 47 member states of the Council of Europe, the Russian Federation, Hungary and Slovenia have the highest rate of youth suicide.

“In Ireland we have the fifth highest rate of youth suicide of the European Member States. Evidence shows that suicide rates are lower in countries where religious beliefs are stronger, namely in Italy and Poland. Religion can provide teenagers with a sense of belonging and with the social interaction they require to express their feelings.

“This need for expression of feelings is one of the main reasons why young people have resorted to the use of the internet. Unfortunately, while some sites can provide valuable help and assistance to young people, unfortunately there are chat rooms and blogs that promote and glamorise suicide.

“It is now time for member states to step up to the plate and place this issue at the top of their political agendas. We must encourage the development of European-wide media guidelines on the reporting of suicides. Five per cent of suicides in young people are believed to be copycat suicides. Following the tragic suicide of Kurt Cobain in Seattle in 1994 the expected rise in copycat suicide among local fans did not arise as a result of the sensitive reporting of the event by the local media. The effect of each suicide has a profound impact on the family, friends, colleagues and neighbours of each victim. It is important that the reporting of the suicide does not impose on the grief of those affected and does not lead to further tragedies.

“The focus should be on early intervention and education. Any obstacles for implementing suicide prevention programmes by member states must be removed. We must invest in helping children most at risk.

“Key to early intervention is ensuring that children have access to psychological assessments and services while still in education. In Ireland for instance, A Vision for Change was published in 2006 which is aimed at improving access to services for those suffering with mental health difficulties. Twenty five million in annual funding was committed to be delivered to implement this policy. However, in 2007 only €10 million of this funding was spent with the rest reallocated to shortfalls in other areas. Mental Health problems are not prioritised in many countries and this lack of attention to our children and adolescents with mental health difficulties will have lifelong consequences, children’s basic human rights must not be denied.

“We need an EU Plan for Action on Youth Suicide Prevention. We need to strengthen our policies, we must support a European network to share information and research, and we must encourage a European wide awareness campaign to publicise the serious problem of suicide.

“Pope John Paul II once said: ‘The future starts today, not tomorrow’. The future starts here today in the Council of Europe. I urge member states to take all possible measures to recognise and deal with the problem of youth suicide. Families and communities throughout Europe are suffering. We must reach out, we must start today to heal the hurt, to support and assist our young people, to work to restore young people’s self-esteem and provide the support for our young people to cope.

“We must act now on the findings of this report and it must be the catalyst for a European-wide Plan of Action to prevent youth suicide.”

Ends