Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

All-party probe into the scourge of suicide

An effective public inquiry into the scourge of suicide in Northern Ireland - particularly prevalent among young males - has been agreed by the Assembly.

A Sinn Fein call for a special Assembly 'task force' to examine the level of support services for people at risk of taking their own lives was replaced by a DUP amendment demanding the issue is investigated by Stormont's Assembly Health scrutiny committee.

The all-party group has been asked to make recommendations to the Executive and report back to the Assembly by February 12 next year on what Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams labelled "the biggest killer of the next generation".

A breakdown of statistics from each local government area between 2001 and 2005 shows a higher prevalence of suicide among the adult male population in the province, and a concentration of suicides within the greater Belfast area.

But it is individual cases - including the triple suicide of 15-year-old boys from the same Co Armagh school and the highly critical report into the death of 18-year-old Danny McCartan - that have focused public attention on the issue.

Apart from the cost of lost lives and the trauma of bereaved families and neighbourhoods, there are economic costs of post-mortem examinations and funerals as well as lost earnings - put at a total of £202m in Northern Ireland for one year alone.

Health Minister Michael McGimpsey conceded mental health services for young people at risk were not strong enough because of "historic underfunding" but said the Executive hoped to redress the imbalance.

Mr McGimpsey also revealed plans for follow-up talks with the providers of websites and internet services including Bebo, Google and Vodafone.

Ulster Unionist Robert Coulter said he had been horrified to read that someone who said on a chatline they were going to commit suicide had been actively encouraged to do so. "That was in fact photographed as it happened so others could take delight in seeing a life taken," he said.

The SDLP's Carmel Hanna called for a bottom-up approach including support at community level, awareness training for teachers, parents and others, including GPs.

Alliance deputy leader Naomi Long said suicide needed to be looked at in the context of other mental health issues and that the Bamford Review had acknowledged the real deficits in terms of mental health facilities.

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