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Health Minister Hamilton vows to up ante in fight against rising suicide rate in Norther Ireland

By Noel McAdam

Published 01/02/2016

Pledge: Simon Hamilton
Pledge: Simon Hamilton

Stormont ministers are to stage special talks on the rising scourge of suicide in Northern Ireland.

Health Minister Simon Hamilton revealed there are early indications of an increase in people taking their own lives - but said the reasons are unknown.

Now he is organising a meeting of Executive ministers on February 29 to assess existing strategies.

In an Assembly answer, he said the suicide rate in the province has remained "relatively constant" over the last eight years - around an annual 280 deaths. He added, however: "The toll of loss is unacceptably high and early indications are that there has been a rise in 2015. The reason for this is not known."

Mr Hamilton also told the Assembly: "Academic research estimates that, for every suicide, there are at least six members of the close family who are deeply affected and up to 60 other people who know the deceased and are touched by the death.

"That indicates that, over the past 10 years alone, some 17,000 people in Northern Ireland have been profoundly affected by suicide, and at least 10% of our population know someone well who has died by suicide."

Men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women - and the majority of people who die by suicide are not previously known to mental health services, he said.

In a written answer to Sinn Fein MLA Bronwyn McGahan - asking how he plans to address the increase in the number of suicides - the minister said he continued to prioritise funding for suicide prevention services such as community-based intervention charity Lifeline, training and awareness raising, and bereavement support.

"In addition, I will ensure that best practice in suicide prevention is applied in the delivery of mental health services," he said.

"However, in the longer term, it is necessary to address the broader societal factors that increase the risk of suicide in our communities. These include poverty, unemployment, debt, low educational attainment, violence and anti-social behaviour, and social isolation.

"Programmes and strategies are in place across Government to address these issues. In a broader sense, these strategies are part of the drive against suicide and I will be meeting with ministerial colleagues on February 29 to ensure continued cross-departmental engagement on mental health promotion and suicide prevention."

A 2014 University of Ulster study of 1,671 suicides and probable suicides in Northern Ireland from 2005 to 2011 showed that 77% of those who died were male and 23% female.

Just half of those who died by suicide were known to have a mental health disorder.

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