'Copycat' fear over suicides

Advice charity warns of concerns

By Michael McHugh

14 March 2005


Concerns over copycat suicide were growing today after it emerged that increasing numbers of people are seeking counselling after a friend or relative takes their own life.

CRUSE, a bereavement advice charity, has announced an 8.5% increase in the number of callers seeking advice after losing a loved one to suicide.

And the identification of suicide "clusters" in areas like north and west Belfast, Ballynahinch and Newry has raised fears among other experts about copycat suicides affecting those close to victims.

The charity received 164 calls for suicide bereavement help in 2004, up on 151 the previous year. North Belfast alone suffered 12 suicides in 2004, mainly in Ardoyne, and parts of east Belfast have also been badly affected.

CRUSE regional manager, Anne Townsend, said she had noted a definite rise in the number of callers affected by a sucide, but could not identify a reason for the phenomenon.

"We are aware of the apparent increase and rise in the number of people who are thinking of suicide. We have also noticed an increase in the number of people who are coming to us for support following a suicide," she said.

"We are dealing with the people who have been left behind and it can be incredibly difficult for them."

The Samaritans provides a service to those who may be considering suicide and about 20% of their estimated 160,000 calls a year involve suicide issues.

"There are cases where certain areas have higher levels of suicide than others. The effect of copycat suicides certainly is a real one," Paul O'Hare from the charity said.

"If a suicide takes place in a community, people who are vulnerable or related to the person who has died may feel that it's attractive to them and will consider it as an option."

Official figures for suicide have fluctuated from 138-185 cases per year over the last decade.

Young people are particularly vulnerable and Ardoyne hosted a cross-community service for bereaved families last Christmas which aimed to help families cope with the impact of suicide.

Jo Murphy, from the north Belfast-based Public Initiative for the Prevention of Suicide and Self-Harm (PIPSS), said that, although the area has a problem with paramilitaries, a range of factors contributed to the problem.

"Each suicide is an individual thing and it can be down to relationship difficulties, high unemployment and drug or alcohol abuse. You can't tar every case with the same brush," she said.

"We act as a signpost organisation and refer people on to organisations. We also help people keep an eye on family members who may have harmed themselves."

PIPSS can be contacted on 9075 2990 and is inviting calls from across the province.