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Boxer Michael Conlan says 'vicious cycle' of suicide in Northern Ireland must be broken

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Michael Conlan has been a vocal campaigner around mental health provision in Northern Ireland.

Michael Conlan has been a vocal campaigner around mental health provision in Northern Ireland.

Michael Conlan has been a vocal campaigner around mental health provision in Northern Ireland.

West Belfast boxer Michael Conlan says the 'cycle' of suicide must be broken in Northern Ireland.

The 28-year-old is taking an enforced break from the ring in the midst of the coronavirus crisis after his St Patrick’s Day bout in New York was called off.

But Conlan says there is no time to rest amidst the suicide pandemic that has swept the country since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

In the intervening years to the most recent figures in 2018, 4,937 suicides were registered in Northern Ireland - more than the over 3,600 killed during the Troubles.

The statistics show a worsening curve, with over 250 registered every year since 2008 - just three years after 200 was reached for the first time.

“It’s a vicious cycle which is very hard to break and that’s what I’m trying to do – I’m trying to break that cycle for the next generation,” the father of two told Boxing Scene.

“To see my kids seeing this kind of thing, it’s kind of normalised. It’s happened so much and then they have the big funerals and stuff, because they’re young kids and they’ve got all the friends and families who want to show support, but at the same time it kind of glamorises it and I don’t like that.

“So many friends and people I know have committed suicide. A lot of young kids, and it’s like a domino effect. When one person does it, more people do it.”

Of the 307 suicides registered in Northern Ireland in 2018, 92 were in Conlan’s home city of Belfast.

“It’s a lot of things,” he continued, struggling to explain the figures.

“There’s obviously post-traumatic stress feeding down through families from the Troubles and it got bigger and bigger and bigger with more deaths each year. That’s partly something to do with it.

“Maybe the poverty, the healthcare, there are so many reasons why that it’s very hard to pinpoint one. It’s a scary thing.”

More than £80m has been spent on suicide prevention in Northern Ireland since 2006, with £10m made available for mental health provisions in the 18/19 budget, but the boxer has been campaigning for greater action to be taken.

In January, he organised an open letter to Health Minister Robin Swann following the return of the Stormont institutions.

Fellow fighters Carl Frampton, Paddy Barnes and Steven Ward also signed the letter, along with the likes of Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody, footballer James McClean and former Ulster Rugby star Andrew Trimble.

“I’ve seen the effects on the people left behind. I broke down crying once or twice in front of the families I was talking to because it does really break my heart seeing my people affected the way they’ve been affected. It’s one of the most heart-wrenching things you’ll see.”

Belfast Telegraph