Belfast Telegraph

Suicide rate 'linked to Troubles'

Belfast must collectively acknowledge the hurt and suffering of the Troubles in a bid to tackle the city's high suicide rates, an international expert has urged.

Leading psychologist Dr David Becker outlined the particular mental health problems associated with communities emerging from conflict as he addressed a suicide prevention event in City Hall.

The day-long Celebrating Life conference - which saw families touched by suicide joined by representatives of counselling and preventative groups - was organised by Lord Mayor Niall O Donnghaile. At the event, the mayor announced that suicide awareness training was to be introduced for all 2,500 staff and politicians at the council.

Dr Becker, a German specialist in trauma and grief, said the link between suicide and conflict was not straightforward. He said: "The grieving of people is partially the Troubles, is partially the economic situation but a big question we have to ask ourselves is how do we talk about the suffering of people, past suffering and present suffering?"

The expert said it was important for all spectrums of society - from government to the media - to develop a language that acknowledged past losses. "When things hurt we would like them to be past and gone by and over but you need room to grieve, you need people to confirm to you what happened," he explained.

The mayor said there was a need for politicians to develop policies that ensured everyone in society was treated with respect.

"The responsibility for developing respect rests with each and everyone of us whatever line of work we are involved in but it is particularly the responsibility of government and politicians because they have the power and the resources that are needed to ensure that society is shaped with respect for the person as a core principle."

A report on the conference will be drafted to inform the development of an emotional resilience and well-being strategy for the city. A new annual Lord Mayor's Award, recognising individual efforts to promote positive mental health and help others, was also announced.

Mr O Donnghaile added: "Too many families across our city have been touched by the tragedy of suicide and, while acknowledging the good work being done by so many in the community, I want to play my part in addressing a subject which has such devastating consequences.

"I hope what I have organised today (Wednesday) will be direct engagement between statutory groups, local community groups, young people and their families - all of us working together to make a positive contribution to life in Belfast. I believe that working in partnership, we can put together an action plan that will help save lives."

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