'40,000 bereaved by suicide'
More than 40,000 people have been bereaved by suicide during almost half a century in Northern Ireland.
The rate of death climbed steadily in recent years and has peaked at around 280 deaths annually, the department of health said.
Suicide levels increased since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement but health minister Jim Wells said the situation would be much worse if efforts had not been made to help.
He said: "I believe our investment in suicide prevention is saving lives."
The death rate in Northern Ireland increased from 1998 to 2007 and has remained relatively high since then at around 280 fatalities annually, Mr Wells said.
He added: "It is estimated there have been over 7,000 suicides in Northern Ireland since 1970. Academics would conservatively estimate that each one of these deaths closely affects another six people.
"Therefore, over 40,000 people in Northern Ireland have been bereaved by suicide in the last 45 years.
"The situation would be much worse if these resources had not been made available and put to good use by community, voluntary and statutory agencies. Fortunately, the impact of the economic downturn has not made a difficult challenge even more formidable."
The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) is developing a new suicide prevention strategy that will continue to focus on awareness raising, training, local research, crisis support, counselling and bereavement support.
The minister was highlighting prevention initiatives and the development of a new suicide prevention strategy at Contact's international suicide prevention conference in Belfast's Titanic Quarter.
Contact is a not-for-profit organisation established in 1977 to provide counselling services for young people. The organisation also delivers the suicide prevention helpline "Lifeline" service.