Belfast Telegraph

Call for more help to tackle mental health crisis in Northern Ireland

Christine Rocks
Christine Rocks
Samantha Rocks
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

Men in Northern Ireland remain almost three times more likely to take their own lives than women, according to the latest research by the NI Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA), with the number of deaths still rising.

In total there were 307 recorded deaths by suicide in 2018, of which 228 were male and 79 female.

That is three more than recorded in 2017 and it's prompted renewed calls for more to be done to tackle the mental health crisis in Northern Ireland as the rate remains double that of the Republic.

Magherafelt woman Christine Rocks lost her daughter Samantha to suicide 12 years ago and said yesterday that although she has seen a marked increase in the help available, more is needed to make sure vulnerable people don't slip through the net.

"When Samantha was 17 I had no idea what to do to get her any help. When I lost Samantha there wasn't a quarter of the facilities available today," she said.

"I have seen a lot of changes, a lot more awareness over issues, but still the number of people taking their own lives is rising so not enough is being done. We still have a major problem in getting people the help they need."

She continued: "I've been campaigning for GPs to have more access to counselling services. People often need long-term support.

"But we also need to be a more caring society. There are a lot more charities now offering help, but people who might be struggling, there's still too many who don't know the help is there for them. We need to reach out and it shouldn't just be down to charities and individuals.

"That's why Stormont returning is important."

Christine decided she wanted to help other families who might be struggling with a loved one and started a help group, Sam 88, which operates around Cookstown and Magherafelt.

"It wasn't until someone came and asked me how I was that I started to open up. I hadn't told my story until that moment so I decided I wanted to do the same for other people," she explained.

"As a society we need to do more of that, look after each other. Sometimes I'm not sure where the words come from, but I tell people if I knew 12 years ago what I know now, I might have been able to help Samantha. That's always with me."

Karen Collins, CEO of Northern Ireland's leading charity tacking depression AWARE, said the latest suicide figures are "devastating".

"There are contributing factors such as our lack of Assembly and the 'Protect Life 2' suicide prevention strategy only recently being released in September of this year," she said.

"However, behind each statistic is a personal and unique story with family members and friends that are grieving.

"At AWARE we want to encourage the people of Northern Ireland that there is help out there and that we provide it.

"We run 25 free-to-attend support groups for people to meet those on a similar journey, and to discuss ways to move forward. We also offer CBT centred courses to provide people who are living with mental illness with the tools they need to cope with life's challenges.

"Through crisis intervention charities such as Lifeline and Samaritans, there is hope."

In September the Department of Health published a new suicide-prevention strategy which aims to reduce the suicide rate by 10% by 2024.

The Protect Life 2 suicide prevention strategy set out a five-year goal to reduce suicide and self-harm.

"Suicide is preventable and not inevitable, yet almost every day in Northern Ireland a person takes their own life," said the department's permanent secretary, Richard Pengelly.

"While 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," he added.

"One of the aims 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 three times higher than those in the least deprived areas."

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