Last month I moved into a new apartment overlooking The Shannon and for the most part, living beside the river in Limerick is wonderful. There are early morning rowers, moonlit city tours by kayak, Sunday strollers feeding the swans and stunning river views completely unique to anywhere else on this island. On announcement to my friends and families that I was setting up home in an apartment close to Thomond Bridge I was met with cries of concerns. Would the rescue helicopter not wake me at night? How will I feel with the continual sirens and patrollers outside my bedroom window? How could I live so close to such a tragic place?
A quick review on river activities over the last few months makes it obvious to why my move would elicit such a response in so many Limerick people I encountered.
Over the last year Limerick has seen a proliferation of suicide prevention groups, alongside local news outlets that still persists with front page news coverage of suicide in the River Shannon. This is despite all evidence suggesting that ceasing reporting on suicide could significantly reduce suicide rates.
The emergence of various suicide prevention groups over the last few months has garnered much attention and praise within the Limerick community.
February saw the arrival of the Community Crisis Response Team. This is a group that patrols various towns throughout West Limerick and provides outreach support to suicidal people within the county. Talking on the origins of the group ,the founder said that it all ‘stemmed from an idea and a Facebook page’. Similar to Lisa Lights, which originated from a dream, Limerick now has an additional well publicised suicide campaign that stems from little more than an individual’s imagination. Likewise, we have members of the public with minimal training and expertise, aligned to groups with little transparency, actively approaching the most vulnerable citizens in our community.
While these all may appear to be morally appropriate interventions, they lack any type of basis in best current suicide reduction evidence or practice. Indeed, Ireland’s national strategy to reduce suicide, Connecting for Life, states that ‘effective suicide prevention strategies must be rooted in robust data’ and ‘take an evidence-informed approach’. Similarly, the World Health Organisation stresses that all suicide reduction actions should be evidence-based, multilayered with effective evaluation as an essential component. Yet, there remains no evaluations on Limerick Council supported initiatives such as Lisa’s Lights. This leaves our community completely oblivious to whether these interventions are having a positive, negative or indeed damaging effect on suicidal individuals.
This summer also saw a fractious split within the Corbett Suicide Prevention Patrol, a group that has maintained a very visible presence both along the Shannon Banks and within local media over the last few years. Distancing themselves from the original CSPP group, the newly rebranded, Limerick suicide patrol, now operates under the banner of ‘Doing Limerick Proud’. The motto of Limerick pride appears to have little to do with the groups supposedly primary aim, which one would presume is to reduce suicide rates within the city. The slogan could lead one to believe that the group’s main motive is deriving satisfaction from their own achievements rather that effectively influencing change for suicidal people.
It may seem severe to question the agenda of these local groups. However, it is essential that the motives of members of the public involved in groups with negligible transparency are questioned, especially when they are actively approaching the most vulnerable people within our community. When suicide prevention groups are operating within a vacuum of regulation, it is up to us a community to scrutinise and advocate for safe interventions to protect our citizens when in peril.
The steady stream of media reports promoting local suicide prevention initiatives are primarily sympathetic in their coverage. However, excess publicity from these groups may be making the whole notion of suicide more acceptable. Some studies indicate that generating ‘awareness’ of suicide may lead vulnerable people to see suicide as a legitimate response to stressful circumstances. For instance, Limerick Suicide Watch recently tweeted regarding a ‘successful intervention’ they had with an individual the previous night. Besides the absolute inappropriateness of disregarding a vulnerable person’s dignity by tweeting about their distress, these frequent social media reports could be leading more people to see suicide as a viable option, as one of the best predictors of suicide is knowing suicide. Instead of the continuous sensationalising of suicide, Limerick requires a calm, rational, evidence-informed approach as would be required of any other life-saving support.
This post does not serve to diminish the motivation and undoubtedly good intentions of many involved in suicide prevention work within our city and county. Its purpose is to reflect and question what we as a city are promoting as the best support we can give to those who feel life is no longer worth living. These people deserve more than indulgent slogans on Limerick pride. They deserve more than endless promotion of interventions built on Facebook ideas and teenage dreams. They deserve more than a local council that doesn’t question the transparency, training or expertise of people eagerly approaching our citizens when they are at their lowest ebb. They deserve a local media that places people’s dignity over twitter shares and likes. They deserve a community that uses the best strategies at its disposal to ensure that suicidal people have the opportunity to live and lead productive, fulfilling lives.
 Dr Patrick Devitt & Derek Beattie. Suicide: A modern obsession (2015). Liberties Press.
 World Health Organisation. Public Health Action for the Prevention of Suicide. (2012).