Speech by Minister O’ Malley meeting the Samaritans New Island Director on Wednesday 28th March at 12.30pm

28 March 2007

I am delighted to be here today in support of the Samaritans initiative to strengthen their infrastructure on an all island basis, the first stage of which is to appoint Suzanne Costello to be their new All Ireland Director.

I very much welcome this all island initiative. It is very much in keeping with the all island collaboration approach to suicide prevention. The National Office for Suicide Prevention and the Health Promotion Agency in Northern Ireland continue to explore initiatives on suicide prevention which can be jointly actioned.

Over 50 years ago Chad Varah, Samaritans founder, saw the need for an organisation that would support and actively listen to those in distress and despair. Samaritans was the result and now there are 20 branches on the island of Ireland and 1,856 volunteers delivering a 24:7 service that handles almost 300,000 contacts every year. In over half of these contacts the caller is seriously considering taking their own life. There can be no doubt then that Samaritans, well known for its suicide reduction role, is one of the most accessed and accessible agencies for those in distress and despair.

I am fully committed to the continued development of our mental health services to prevent the further tragic loss of life. This year we will spend approximately €1 Billion on mental health services. In 2006, additional funding was allocated to the National Office for Suicide Prevention specifically for suicide prevention initiatives and research. A further €1.85 million has been allocated in 2007 to develop and implement national training programmes and to complete the availability of self harm services through A&E Departments. This brings total funding available, in 2007, for suicide prevention initiatives to €8 million.

Preventing suicide and reducing the rate of suicide in Ireland is an urgent public health issue, one that goes right to the heart of our efforts and policies to create a healthy, prosperous and socially inclusive Ireland. In the light of increased information around suicide prevention rates I have agreed with the National Office for Suicide Prevention a target of 10% reduction in suicide by 2010, 5% reduction in repeated self-harm by 2010 and a further 5% in repeated self-harm by 2016.

All of these initiatives stem from “Reach Out”, A National Strategy for Action on Suicide Prevention which was launched in September 2005. A fundamental aim of this strategy is to prevent suicidal behaviour, including deliberate self-harm, and to increase awareness of the importance of good mental health among the general population. Ongoing, quality, multi-disciplinary research is an essential strand of the strategy and findings will be of greatest value where they can inform and stimulate action and service development.

Samaritans is increasingly making itself visible through its range of early interventions under its Emotional Health Development strategy, and is aiming to respond to societal changes through this work. Talking about feelings such as loneliness, depression and anxiety is not easy. It is to Samaritans credit that these topics are discussed openly pushing against the stigmatising attitude of society. In the last year the organisation has launched both a curriculum based schools resource “Developing Emotional Awareness and Learning” - DEAL and a CD based training resource pack for managers called WorkLife. I believe both of these will assist in the implementation of “Reach Out”.

Samaritans is also adapting to changes in technology. Last year Samaritans launched a service to support callers by SMS text message, and is currently working with many providers of internet services to ensure that they primarily promote the Samaritans service to people whenever they use search engines to explore suicide.

I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the individual volunteers. Listening to someone in distress takes great courage and the ability to reflect, explore issues and options whilst not giving direct advice. The fact that over 1800 individuals continue to give of themselves shows that our society is one in which care and compassion remains steadfast in the face of many changes. The hard work, effort and dedication of all those involved is commended. The work being undertaken will continue to have a positive impact and enhance the well-being and quality of life for many people.

The Samaritans having formed one group at a time, took the steps to develop the infrastructure to ensure its approach was one of consistency and quality. The decision to appoint Suzanne Costello as Director, who will coordinate Samaritans response on an all-island basis, shows that this ability to be creative and establish cohesive bonds remains.

I would like to wish Suzanne every success in her new role. I would also like to again commend everyone involved with the Samaritans for the tremendous work that you do. I am confident you will continue to make an impact, growing as you need to but more importantly delivering and reaching out to those in need in the future as you have throughout your renowned history. Thank you.