Action plan to fight suicide epidemic that claims a life in Northern Ireland every day
A long-awaited action plan to tackle Northern Ireland's "unacceptably high" suicide epidemic has finally been published.
The Protect Life 2 strategy is released today by the Department of Health, which revealed that someone here takes their own life "almost every day".
It outlines measures that will be taken to reduce suicide and self-harm in the next five years and examines the importance of working together on prevention.
Figures from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) show that 609 people have taken their own lives here in the two years since Stormont collapsed in early 2017.
SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan, who lost a sister to suicide, said it was outrageous it has taken so long to publish the strategy, which comes on World Suicide Prevention Day.
"It's a total disgrace that it has taken so long to get to this stage and it has been directly attributable to the fact that we don't have ministers here," he said.
"Who knows how many lives could have been saved or lives that could have been changed had this strategy seen the light of day earlier?"
He added: "We also know from experience that the publication of a strategy is one thing and the implementation of that strategy is another.
"It is therefore imperative that we hear from the Department and their partners in delivery as to how each aspect of the strategy will be rolled out and what tools will be in place to ensure effective implementation of it."
Provisional figures from NISRA detail the suicide crisis in Northern Ireland. They show 305 people took their own lives here in 2017, while a further 304 died by suicide the following year.
Other statistics show more people have taken their own lives in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday Agreement than were killed during the Troubles between 1969 and 1997. Indeed, since the 1998 peace deal about 4,500 suicides were registered here, compared to an estimated 3,600 people who died in shootings, bombings and other killings during the Troubles.
Richard Pengelly, permanent secretary at the Department of Health, said the challenge for Protect Life 2 "will be to substantially reduce suicide rates by 10% by 2024", in line with World Health Organisation advice.
"Suicide is preventable and not inevitable, yet almost every day in Northern Ireland a person takes their own life," he said.
"Whilst suicide rates here have remained relatively stable over the last decade, the level is without a doubt unacceptably high. How we address this is a challenge for all in government and society."
Mr Pengelly said one of the aims of the new strategy is to deliver suicide prevention services and support "with a particular focus on deprived areas where self-harm rates are highest and suicide rates are over 3.5 times higher than those in the least deprived areas".
Currently £8.7m is invested in suicide prevention each year. An additional £1.35m has been provided through the transformation programme this financial year.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said the toll suicide takes "is not just measured in lives lost and anguish for families and communities".
He added: "There is also an estimated wider societal cost of £1.55M for each life lost. Right across government we must continue to prioritise investment in prevention."
Protect Life 2 contains a range of new and ongoing actions designed to reduce the suicide rate, including greater focus on those bereaved by suicide, more support for those who care for others and enhanced working across Departments.
If you or anyone close to you is affected by issues in this article, contact the Samaritans free on 116123 or Lifeline on 080 8808 8000