Belfast Telegraph

Fears over effects of 303 lost lives in a single year

By Victoria O'Hara

More than 300 people have died from suicide in Northern Ireland in a year – the second highest number on record.

Campaigners say the high level of deaths is a "wake-up call" for more investment to tackle mental health problems and suicide prevention.

The figures released from the Statistics and Research Agency showed there were 303 suicides registered in 2013. Of these, 229 were men and 74 were women.

Only the 313 suicides registered in 2010 exceeds this figure.

Despite around £7m being invested by the Department of Health annually into suicide preventation and mental health measures, campaigners say it is "still not enough".

Professor Siobhan O'Neill, who leads the research team from the Bamford Centre for Mental Health and Well-Being at the University of Ulster, said the latest figures were "extremely worrying".

"They are incredibly concerning – it is just devastating for the families of the people affected and everyone around them. The ripple affect of suicide through communities is just devastating."

Prof O'Neill explained that most people who had a mental disorder did not go on to die by suicide and many people who died by suicide had no recorded mental health disorder.

"Our research shows that suicide is a very complex matter and never just one thing in isolation," she said. "It is that lethal combination of life events, plus mental health health problems, lack of support, a breakdown in relationships and social structures, and that is what can lead to people to think their lives are no longer worth living."

She added: "We do find that when communities are coming out of conflict situations the rates do rise, and that is certainly the case in Northern Ireland. There is also a recession happening and there are a lot of people in financial difficulties."

Philip McTaggart, founder of PIPs suicide awareness charity, said action was needed now.

"These figures are a wake-up call that more needs to be done. The fact that this is the second highest suicide rate since 2010 should ring alarm bells – people need better help and support."

Prof O'Neill said three-quarters of the suicides were male.

"They tend not to talk about their pain. We need to reach out to men who are experiencing problems and try and get them to access the support network that is around them. The idea that it is simply about depression or mental illness is a very limited way of looking at suicide.

"What needs to happen is getting people to the point where they are using the services. It is getting people to services in the middle of the night, the weekend, at times when they are at their lowest, and those services aren't always available."

Health Minister Edwin Poots has made tackling suicide one of the priorities of his department and has previously highlighted the millions of pounds invested in bringing down levels.

Lifeline is the 24-hour Northern Ireland helpline service for people who are experiencing distress or despair. It can be contacted confidentially on 0808 808 8000

Accessing help at the right time is still a major problem

Compared to, say, 10 years ago, there is more help than ever for people, but this shows that more needs to be done.

Families are still struggling; people are asking for help. Accessing the right help at a time when people are at their most vulnerable is still a big problem.

 Mental health receives about 2% of the health budget. That is very, very little money.

If 303 people died in any other circumstances, what do you think Government and other officials would be doing? They would be shouting from the high heavens.

This is a wake-up call. We need to actually start to put more preventative measures in place. It is not an easy topic to talk about, but the taboo needs to be broken down.

I know it all costs money, but public money can be found for other things and I think putting our people first and giving them hope for the future is the right thing to do.

I don’t want anybody to go through the pain that I went through, and there are too many families who have done that already.

Everyone wants to know why this is happening. But families who have lost a loved one to suicide are left wondering why. They wonder: why didn’t I see the signs every day?

When you experience the trauma of suicide you don’t have anyone else to blame, and many families turn in on themselves.

And therein is another problem, as they too become high risk. When someone dies by suicide it affects so many people — it is just devastating. Training and support is vital to spot the signs of someone who is feeling vulnerable.

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