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More action urged as Northern Ireland still the UK's suicide blackspot

By Victoria O'Hara

Published 05/02/2016

Edwin Poots
Edwin Poots

A former Health Minister whose family has been affected by suicide has revealed the pain of dealing with the aftermath.

The DUP's Edwin Poots described how relatives were often left feeling guilty for not doing enough to prevent a suicide.

Mr Poots was writing in the Belfast Telegraph as it was revealed that Northern Ireland remains the UK region with the highest suicide rate.

According to the latest figures, the number of suicides showed a decrease from 303 in 2013 to 268 in 2014.

However, the province has had the highest regional suicide rate in the UK since 2012.

"We must send out the message that no matter how dark it may seem, help is always available and that every life is valuable. No one should ever feel they are worthless or their life does not matter," writes Mr Poots.

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) figures showed men made up 77% of all suicides in the province in 2014.

There was a decrease from 229 male deaths in 2013 to 207 deaths in 2014.

The number of women who died by suicide dropped from 74 in 2013 to 61 in 2014, representing an 18% reduction.

Despite the decline in numbers there are still calls from mental health experts for more to be done to save lives. During 2014 there were 16.5 suicides per 100,000 in Northern Ireland. Scotland had the second highest rate, at 14.5, followed by 10.3 in England and 9.2 in Wales.

Health Minister Simon Hamilton this week revealed there were early indications of an increase in people taking their own lives, but said the reasons were unknown.

Around 213,000 adults were badly affected by the trauma of the Troubles, according to a recent study from the Commission for Victims and Survivors. And 30% of the population suffer mental health problems, nearly half of which directly related to the violence. Research has also shown that people living in deprived areas are more vulnerable to suicide.

Fergus Cumiskey, managing director of Contact NI, the charity behind Lifeline, the crisis response hotline, said: "The zero suicide initiative came from Henry Ford Health Care, Detroit, the result of their 'perfect depression care' performance improvement project, reducing suicide rates by 75% over just three years," he said.

"The key to the change was a culture shift from 'suicides happen, if someone chooses, there's not much we can do' to an explicit leadership commitment that 'none of our patients should ever die alone, in despair by suicide'. The culture shift was remarkable."

Ruth Sutherland, Samaritans CEO, said: "These statistics show that Samaritans work is vital.

"Suicide is a society-wide issue. Moving forward, we would like to see more real-time reporting of suicide deaths.

"Such information would allow us, and others, to react in a timely manner to emerging trends in suicide and identify high-risk groups quickly and respond to these trends as they happen to allow us to take action earlier, and change lives."

A Department of Health spokeswoman said over £7m is allocated annually to suicide prevention in Northern Ireland. "Further work is being undertaken to develop a cross-Government approach to building stronger emotional resilience, particularly among population groups that are vulnerable to poor mental health and well-being, in people at all stages of the life course," she said.

"However, there will be particular focus on the early years as experiences at this stage of development tend to shape a person's lifelong emotional resilience."

If you are in need of help you can contact Lifeline on 0808 808 8000 or the Samaritans on 028 9066 4422

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