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Number of suicides up 8% with disadvantaged men most at risk

By Victoria O'Hara

Published 25/11/2015

Simon Hamilton
Simon Hamilton

Suicide rates in Northern Ireland have risen by 8% in the past six years, new figures have revealed.

The worrying statistics also show the number of people who have taken their own lives in deprived areas is more than triple the rate compared to affluent towns and cities.

It has led to calls for more "assertive outreach work" to disadvantaged men across the province.

The latest figures also show an ongoing wide variation depending on where people live, with poorer people having worse health outcomes.

Almost one in five (19%) of those who took part in the Health Inequalities In Northern Ireland Survey indicated they may have a mental health problem. The 30% rate in the most deprived areas, however, was double that in the least deprived areas (15%).

Other key facts showed:

l Men living in the 20% of most deprived areas could expect, on average, to live 7.5 fewer years than those in the 20% least deprived areas.

l Female life expectancy in the most deprived areas was just over 79 - four years fewer than in the least deprived areas.

The prescriptions rate to treat mood and anxiety also increased by 20% since 2009.

It is estimated that mental health problems in Northern Ireland are 20-25% higher than in the rest of the UK. Therefore, one in four adults will experience a diagnosable mental health problem at any given time. This makes mental ill health the largest cause of disability in Northern Ireland.

The survey also revealed the wider problems of health inequality for people living in deprived areas. A quarter of adults surveyed in 2014/15 were considered obese, with a rate of 28% in the most deprived areas and 19% in the least deprived areas.

Fergus Cumiskey, MD for Contact, the charity which runs the Lifeline crisis helpline service, said more "assertive outreach work" to disadvantaged men needed to be carried out. "The most recent NI Health Inequalities Survey confirms the continuing trend of greater suicide risk among already disadvantaged men," he added.

"To increase Lifeline outreach to men at risk, we are pursuing active partnership with the hostel sector and the PSNI.

"Referral to effective, accessible 24/7 Lifeline support at crisis point can make a huge difference. Future development for Lifeline and the NI suicide prevention strategy must include investment in assertive outreach to disadvantaged men and their loved ones, with the clear goal to drive down the regional suicide rate, against which strategy effectiveness should be measured.

"Zero suicide should be the only acceptable target for people in our care."

Health Minister Simon Hamiliton reiterated his commitment to establishing a comprehensive mental trauma service in Northern Ireland.

"It is clear that there are unmet needs in our mental health services," he said. "I want to comprehensively address the legacy of the Troubles and address unmet mental health needs. It will involve leading edge, evidence-based treatments in line with guidelines, and would be based on the authoritative and internationally recognised stepped care model, which focuses on the recovery of the individual from psychological trauma."

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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