Suicide represents a tragic waste of life. It is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Northern Ireland’s suicide rates are growing. Between 1998 and 2008, deaths by suicide here doubled, according to researchers at Queen’s University.
The latest figures show they are around 300-a-year — more people than died in violence during the Troubles in any year except 1972.
Yet services such as ours can make a difference. New Life Counselling helps children, young people, adults and families who are experiencing difficulties in their lives.
We are also seeing an increase in people coming to see us with suicidal thoughts. All such clients are now on a journey of rediscovering hope and meaning in their lives.
So there is hope and there are solutions. With the right investment in the problem, and if more people came to see us before it is too late, this trend can be reversed.
Why is suicide on the rise? What are the signs to look for in people? And what can be done to help them?
Professor Mike Tomlinson, of Queen’s University, recently published a study concluding that there is a link between the conflict in Northern Ireland and suicide rates.
He found that suicide is increasing most rapidly among people who were young children in the 1970s, when the Troubles were at their height.
Young people tend to be more optimistic than their elders, but here, too, we see increases.
There has been lots of research into the causes of suicide, yet in spite of this there is very little hard evidence to explain why some people take their lives while others in similar circumstances do not.
However, some factors have been identified, including traumatic experience during childhood, such as a bereavement, which might explain some of Prof. Tomlinson’s findings, i.e persistent misuse of alcohol/drugs, fears about jobs (not having one, or being stressed about work) and being socially isolated.
For people under stress, the actual trigger can be a seemingly minor incident, taking them to the edge.
More recently, three other factors have been identified: a perception they are alone in the world and that no one really cares about them; a feeling (again usually mistaken) that they are a burden on others and that people would be better off if they were dead; and — most worryingly of all — a fearlessness towards pain and death.
So what should people do if they are having suicidal thoughts?
It’s important to understand that, if you are feeling that way, it is not a sign of weakness. Early intervention is important: come and see us (by referring yourself at newlifecounselling.net) and go to your GP.
Family and friends are important: confide in those you trust and spend time with people every day. Eat and exercise — even if you don’t feel like it. And don’t hide from the problem with drink and drugs.
And, if you want to talk to someone , call Lifeline on 0808 808 8000.
If you are worried about a friend, or a loved one, create a space for them to talk; give them reassurance and encourage them to seek professional support. Remember that people you care about can — and will — be helped.
Key to the process is to provide each individual with the skills and mechanisms to break their suicidal thought patterns, by identifying support structures in their lives, through their family, community, or general services provided.
Part of the counselling process will help people identify their own resources to help them build their resilience and self-value, addressing feelings of worthlessness.
Organisations like ours can — and do — help people transform their lives. Sadly, we are seeing our caseloads increasing.
We rely on fundraising. If you want to make a donation,or organise fundraising, please contact Astrid Conville on (028) 9039 1630.
Karen Collins is chief executive of New Life Counselling