Calls grow for action as 'shocking' suicide rates in Northern Ireland laid bare
Pressure is growing for more to be done to tackle Northern Ireland's "truly shocking" suicide rates after a spate of tragic deaths.
A new report by mental health charity Samaritans revealed that suicide rates for men and women are higher in Northern Ireland than other UK nations and the Republic of Ireland.
Men and women are almost twice as likely to commit suicide here compared to those in England, with the highest rate among men aged 25 to 29 and women aged 40 to 49.
Northern Ireland has a rate of 28 suicides per 100,000 men - considerably higher than other parts of the UK and Ireland.
In comparison the rate in England sits at 11.7 per 100,000 men, according to Samaritans Suicide Statistics Report for 2019.
For women the figure is 9.5% in Northern Ireland, compared to 4.9% in England. A total of 307 people took their own life in Northern Ireland in 2018.
While the male suicide rate has decreased by 3.9% between 2017 and 2018, in the same period the number of female suicides rose by 12.3%.
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However, the suicide rate among men is still three times higher than that of females. The figures follow a devastating few weeks which have seen a series of tragic deaths across Northern Ireland, with many families facing 2020 without a loved one.
Upper Bann DUP MLA Jonathan Buckley said suicide prevention is needed "now, more than ever".
"In the first week of 2020 it has been extremely unsettling to hear the prevalence of suicide and untimely deaths," he said.
"We received further alarming data, this time from Samaritans UK, surrounding the mental health crisis which once again sets Northern Ireland apart from the rest of the United Kingdom.
"Whilst many of us start the new year with a sense of hopefulness and optimism, the unfortunate reality is that many people around us are continuing to battle depression and suicidal thoughts.
"This year we should collectively challenge ourselves to combine our efforts towards breaking the stigma associated with mental health and suicide."
Mr Buckley said there is a serious mental health crisis in Northern Ireland.
He added: "Earlier this year, it was found that Northern Ireland currently spends less than half per capita supporting people with mental health issues than is spent in England.
"The disparity between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK is considerable and it is evidently clear that suicide prevention is needed now, more than ever. I encourage everyone to continue the conversation.
"Mental health services and seeking the root cause must be a top priority for any future executive. This silent killer is destroying too many lives."
Earlier this week SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon said a mental health action plan must be a priority for a new Assembly and Executive as more and more young people face despair.
Sinn Fein's North Belfast MP John Finucane has also requested an urgent meeting with health officials over recent suicides in north Belfast.
Last September, a long-awaited action plan to tackle Northern Ireland's "unacceptably high" suicide epidemic was published.
The Protect Life 2 strategy from the Department of Health contained 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 are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, contact the Samaritans on 084 5790 9090, or Lifeline 080 8808 8000