A consultant psychiatrist last night called on Government to add lithium salts to the public water supply in a bid to lower the suicide rate and depression among the general population.
At a mental health forum on “Depression in Rural Ireland” in Ennistymon, Co Clare, Dr Moosajee Bhamjee said that “there is growing scientific evidence that adding trace amounts of the drug lithium to a water supply can lower rates of suicide and depression”.
Lithium is used by doctors as a mood stabiliser in the treatment for depression.
Dr Bhamjee said: “A recent article in the British Journal of Psychiatry found the beneficial uses of lithium when it was added to the water supply in parts of Texas.”
He said the Government should consider a pilot project for a town in Ireland where lithium salts could be added to the water in very small doses and examine the results.” He said there was already strong precedent for governments intervening in the operation of public water supply for health benefits by adding fluoride.
Dr Bhamjee said that a community would not get “hooked” on lithium “because the doses would be so small”.
He said: “There are 200,000 people suffering from depression in Ireland and the Government must think of new ways of tackling the problem.”
Fine Gael TD and chairman of the Irish Association of Suicidology, Dan Neville, told the forum the average annual suicide rate in Ireland in the 1960s was 64-65.
He said: “Last year, 483 people died by suicide and if you add the 123 undetermined deaths, the suicide number is over 600.”
He said: “This compares to 212 who died by road accidents, which is itself unacceptable.
“Research shows during international recessions, the suicide rate increases by 25 per cent. Ireland has the fourth highest youth suicide rate in Europe.”
Mr Neville added: “Suicide is the most common death for 15 to 24-year-olds and accounts for more than those who die from cancer and road accidents combined.”
The Limerick West deputy said that the attitude in mental health service towards those with mental health problems should be recovery and not containment.
He said: “Early intervention, you have 90 per cent cure and late intervention you have difficulties for life.”
Mr Neville said that with the well-publicised suicide of footballer Gary Speed, it raised contagion or copycat suicide concerns.