Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Waste of human life cannot go on

The latest research into suicide in Northern Ireland is one of the most challenging documents to be presented to the Health Service in recent times.

It shows that the current strategies for coping with a surge in the rate of people taking their own lives are failing miserably. Targets were set in 2006 to reduce the number of suicides by around 15% by last year. Had those targets been met an estimated 366 who died by their own hand in the intervening years would still be alive.

Instead the figures continue to rise. And, according to the research, it is a legacy of our decades of violence known as the Troubles.

Since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement the overall suicide rate has doubled among both men and women. It seems that in times of peace more people are finding they are unable to cope with life and turning to anti-depressant drugs, alcohol and narcotics as a way of getting through, but ultimately leading to tragedy for many.

The research also dispels a popular myth, that young men are the most vulnerable group. Instead it says that it is men in the 35-44 age bracket who are most likely to take their own lives.

They are the children of the Troubles who experienced the worst of the violence - an experience which appears to have caught up with many with tragic consequences. While the focus of the anti-suicide drive was on young people, those really most at risk were silently dying.

Professor Mike Tomlinson, who conducted the research, echoes the often repeated mantra that mental health services are woefully under-resourced.

He compares the reaction of health professionals and the resources deployed in trying to help those injured in accidents with the reaction to those who want to harm themselves.

Not only has the focus of suicide prevention been wrongly directed, but inadequate resources are deployed.

We cannot allow this waste of human life to continue unabated and the Health Minister must redouble efforts to initiate effective policies to aid those silently screaming for help.

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