Shocking suicide rate figures show more must be done to stop people from making such a drastic decision
Shocking, alarming, frightening, chilling - all these adjectives are appropriate to describe the report that on average six people every week take their own lives in Northern Ireland. It is a statistic that almost beggars belief. We all know that suicide is a major problem here, but few of us realised just how serious it has become.
Imagine the outcry if six people were dying on our roads every week or if six murders were committed. There would be demands for action from the Government and many expert groups would be set up to examine the problem and come up with potential solutions.
Yes, it has to be acknowledged that £7m is spent on suicide prevention measures each year and that the Government has taken the issue more seriously in recent times, but it is obvious that the initiatives are not working as hoped. Last year we had the highest number of suicides on record.
That is a statement of fact, rather than a criticism of the magnificent efforts made by hard pressed social services and the many voluntary bodies working in this field.
The problem with suicide is that there is no common cause. It is an epidemic that crosses gender, age ranges and social status. We often associate it with young men - and they are indeed the prime group to take their own lives - but less than half of those who died by suicide last year were aged under 34.
Addiction problems, financial difficulties, relationship breakdowns, alienation and a feeling of failure are some of the triggers. It is difficult to determine just why this graph of death is rising. Could it be that modern life, with its emphasis on acquisitiveness leaves more and more people feeling isolated and friendless?
Whatever the reasons, this is an issue which needs to rise up the agenda at Stormont across all departments. We also need better coordination between statutory and voluntary agencies, greater education on the true value of human life and the creation of a truly caring society.