Michael Cronin writes: A report just published by the National Suicide Research Foundation on the incidence of suicide and self-harm between 2008 and 2012 shows the full extent of structural violence in our system. The report, authored by Prof Ella Arensman and Dr Paul Corcoran, found that male suicides were 57 per cent higher by the end of 2012 than they would have been if the recession had not occurred. Measured in absolute terms, this is 476 more male suicides than expected if previous trends had continued. In the same period, self-harm was higher by 37 per cent among men and 26 per cent among women than would have been the case if pre-recession trends had continued. In absolute terms, this equates to 5,000 men and 3,800 women.
In a report on the findings, The Irish Times noted that the strategic framework “is expected to place a heavy emphasis on expanding the use of crisis nurses to support patients at risk of self-harming” (Carl O’Brien, “Recession linked to almost 500 suicides”, March 16th, 2015). Once again, the principal causes of recent suicide and self-harm in Irish society are clearly identified and the response is to treat it primarily as the result of contingent staffing problems or the absence of appropriate therapies.
The reluctance to acknowledge the full savagery of the austerity years is in part due to the ongoing practices of banking institutions, who now engage in a form of financial counter-insurgency against their own customers. In an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde, the head of credit control in Permanent TSB showed the journalist around a floor of a building in Dublin city centre. In the room were dozens of employees whose job was to repeatedly harry those defaulting on mortgage repayments. Above the employees (doubtless harried in their turn for not reaching quotas) were screens showing the number of phone calls that had been made that day and how much money had been collected.
That this was conceived of as a military-style operation was eloquently confirmed by the head of credit control, who told the French journalist that the bank’s “customers had nowhere to hide”. They would be smoked out by the special forces of telecommunications harassment and legal threats. That these threats are not idle is borne out by the 3,865 home repossessions since 2009 and with over 100,000 homes still in mortgage arrears and the rate of repossessions accelerating, the war is far from over.
So what about the casualties in this war of terror? As the UCD economist Julien Mercille recently pointed out in broadsheet.ie, much media coverage has focused on the attempt by the Bank of Ireland to repossess a former multi-millionaire’s property in Killiney. However, there has been no prime time or front page treatment for Ger Lonergan, a father of two from Limerick, whose house is being threatened with repossession by the Permanent TSB bank. Mr Lonergan has been diagnosed with cancer and was unable to make repayments as a result of his illness. Permanent TSB want to repossess the house where he lives with his wife and children because of an outstanding debt of €32,000. He gets €78 a week in disability allowance. After the recession comes the terror and it is our accident and emergency units and our funeral homes that will continue to be left to count the cost.
An essay examining the links between austerity and suicide by Michael Cronin will be published in our May issue.