Sunday Independent - April 6, 2005

THE former US President, Bill Clinton, is to visit Ireland next month in an extraordinary effort to boost a major campaign for suicide prevention, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

Touched by shocking statistics that show 444 people committed suicide in Ireland in 2003, President Clinton has agreed to lend his support to a new service from RehabCare.

The intervention of the former president is a remarkable coup for RehabCare, which is launching a programme to target adolescents, who are the most vulnerable to suicide.

One of the main aims of the three-year plan is to reduce the stigma associated with mental illnesses.

And a number of celebrities - including stars from the world of sports and television, musicians and top DJs - are being lined up to partake in a nationwide advertising campaign aimed at promoting a new attitude of openness about mental health issues.

A helpline will be set up and counsellors made available in A&E departments to provide support to those who have attempted suicide. President Clinton learned of RehabCare's work from his friend John Hume who is patron of the charity.

More than 1,000 people, including the Taoiseach and the Tanaiste, are expected to attend a gala dinner in the CityWest Hotel in Dublin on May 23, where President Clinton will be guest of honour.

RehabCare refused to comment on details of the visit which is sensitive for security reasons, but a spokesman said: "We are deeply honoured that President Clinton is lending his support to this much needed and valuable service to young people."

Rumours were circulating last night that President Clinton had scheduled his visit to coincide with the British general election, which is likely to happen in early May.

President Clinton has been made aware of the huge scale of the problem of suicide in Ireland. Some 80 per cent of suicide victims are young men, and it is the primary cause of death among males aged 15 to 24.

Experts estimate that 50 people are affected by each suicide, and a National Task Force said the financial cost to the country over a four-year period was 96m.

RehabCare will pilot a number of school and community based prevention programmes in Galway, Mayo and Roscommon.

These programmes will be rolled out nationally after one year. An internal RehabCare memo, seen by the Sunday Independent, states: "School settings provide immediate and accessible locations within which to reach the highest-risk group for suicide."