Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Ulster taking lead in halting suicide, says world expert

A world-leading expert on suicide prevention has said other countries can learn from how Northern Ireland deals with the spiralling problem.

Professor Annette Beautrais — the World Health Organisation’s head of international suicide prevention strategy — said she was impressed at the steps being taken both at government level and within communities to try and curb increasing suicide rates here.

Each year around 300 people commit suicide in Northern Ireland, with the figure increasing every year since 2006.

During the period 1999 to 2009, a total of 2,258 deaths were registered as suicide.

Previously, younger men were believed to be most at risk of suicide in Northern Ireland but latest research shows those who grew up in the worst years of the Troubles are most vulnerable.

Health Minister Edwin Poots this week revealed an investment of £32m in suicide prevention projects, adding he believed money spent had saved numerous lives. Yesterday, more than 200 delegates from across the world attended the Suicide Prevention — What Works? conference at the Stormont Hotel to discuss the best way forward to reduce suicide rates here and across the globe.

Hosted by Contact, a leading mental health advocacy charity, the audience consisted of policy makers, political leaders, activists and clinicians in healthcare and the emergency services, justice and policing, journalists and key figures from research, education, community development and faith communities.

Professor Beautrais, who travelled from New Zealand for the conference, told the Belfast Telegraph: “I’m very impressed with what Northern Ireland is doing and there are several areas in which I think it’s actually providing leadership and can provide leadership to other countries.

“I’m also very impressed you are able to have a national suicide database and a national registry for self-harm, so many countries don’t have those. You have both.

“I think that’s a very good start.”

The Public Health Agency (PHA) has acknowledged that suicide and self harm is “a major problem in Northern Ireland”.

Its head of health and social well-being improvement, Brendan Bonner, said the knowledge gained from the international speakers would be “invaluable in developing local solutions in partnership with those on the ground who are often best placed to see the needs”.

Background

Earlier this week Health Minister Edwin Poots met with Professor Annette Beautrais. He said: “Suicide rates have risen since 2006. Around 300 people a year in Northern Ireland continue to die by suicide every year. I’d estimate that we have at least 3,000 families dealing with the trauma and pain of suicide. Their pain will last for decades and they themselves are at elevated risk of suicide. This is a vicious circle that we have to break.”

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