NI suicide rate soars by 19% with six people taking own lives every week
Six people commit suicide every week in Northern Ireland, according to new research from award-winning investigative news website The Detail.
Despite more than £7m being spent on suicide prevention in the province every year, the deaths of 318 people last year were registered as suicides.
That was the highest annual figure since records began in 1970 and also a 19% increase on the number recorded the previous year.
Of the suicide deaths registered in 2015, 243 (77%) were male, and 73 were female.
One hundred and thirty-two of the deaths involved people aged between 15 and 34, while five were aged 75 or older.
The issue was most stark in the capital, with 93 people taking their own lives in the Belfast Health Trust area - almost a third of the 2015 total.
The shocking figures were compiled using data from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency and also from the Registrar General's quarterly reports.
In the report, author Kathryn Torney explained that there was "no simple explanation for why someone chooses to die by suicide, and it is rarely due to one particular factor".
"Mental health problems are important influences, as well as alcohol and substance misuse, and feeling desperate, helpless or without hope," she said.
"Using historic data held by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, we have been able to calculate that a total of 7,697 suicides were registered in Northern Ireland from the beginning of 1970 to the end of 2015. Of these deaths, 5,666 were males."
Pat McGreevy, of the Suicide Down to Zero charity, which is based in Downpatrick, told the website that the latest figures were "very concerning".
"There is a lot of great suicide prevention work being done, and it could be argued that without this the numbers dying from suicide could be even higher," he explained
"Suicide has a huge impact on the families bereaved in this way. Often, the hopelessness that their loved ones experienced, they too experience it.
"Families are also left with the terrible question of 'why?', which they may never get to know the answer to.
"With the appropriate help, people bereaved in this way can get to a new normal, where they can once more enjoy life. Their lives have changed for ever, and it's a life their loved one will not share."
Mr McGreevy also called for the introduction of new and different approaches to suicide prevention in Northern Ireland.
"There are a lot of myths surrounding suicide that need to be challenged in a specific public information campaign," he said.
"These myths include notions that talking about suicide puts it in people's heads, that people who talk about suicide aren't serious, that they may be attention-seeking, and that only professionals can deal with people who are suicidal.
"These all represent barriers to suicide prevention, and they reinforce stigma around the issue.
"If we are serious about preventing suicide, then it has to move further up the political agenda."
Sinn Fein Health Minister Michelle O'Neill said that the suicide rate was "unacceptably high in the North" and that reducing the rate continued to be an urgent priority for her department.
"High levels of deprivation, the legacy of conflict and high levels of mental ill-health create a very challenging set of circumstances for many people in the north of Ireland," the minister explained.
Lifeline, the confidential crisis response helpline service for people experiencing distress or despair can be contacted on 0808 808 8000.
- The Samaritans can be contacted by telephone on 116 123 or email email@example.com
- Read The Detail website's full report on suicide in Northern Ireland at http://www.thedetail.tv/articles/suicide-deaths-in-northern-ireland-highest-on-record