Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Action needed to halt suicide toll

There cannot be many people in Northern Ireland who are unaware of the disturbingly high incidence of suicides among young people.

But Children's Commissioner, Patricia Lewsley, produced even more shocking evidence when addressing MLAs yesterday. She told them of an eight year old who attempted hanging and a boy of the same age who cut himself 38 times.

These are scarcely believable incidents. At an age when they have barely grasped the idea of reasoning, children are deliberately endangering their own lives. What could possibly possess them to carry out such acts? Is there even a rational explanation? The answer is that we don't know.

But what is self-evident is that a significant number of young people - 21 young people have taken their own lives in west Belfast this year alone - find themselves in situations where hope, aspirations and expectations are so negative that even life itself seems not worth living. That is a terrible indictment of our society, that it offers so little to what should be the most optimistic generation.

There is no doubt that a new strategy to deal with suicide is needed. It is not simply a mental health problem but takes in societal issues such as employment prospects, education, social and health services, counselling and aid facilities.

The Children's Commissioner's shock tactics should be a spur for the Executive and Assembly to demonstrate leadership on this crucial issue. While there is undoubtedly much sterling work being carried out by statutory and voluntary organisations, the death toll is unacceptably high.

It will take action from the very top of government to address the problem and to co-ordinate a response to it.

It is a response which needs to be focused on the age and gender groups most at risk - young males, mostly, but not always, who are living in disadvantaged areas - and on the social conditions relevant to them.

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