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Executive working group to tackle mental health crisis

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The move comes following a series of recent tragedies (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

The move comes following a series of recent tragedies (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

The move comes following a series of recent tragedies (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

A new Executive working group is to be set up at Stormont in a bid to tackle the mental health crisis.

The news comes following a spate of tragic sudden deaths in Northern Ireland in recent months.

During a meeting discussing public services on Wednesday, the Executive agreed to set up a working group to focus on improving mental well-being and resilience in Northern Ireland.

Following the meeting, First Minister Arlene Foster said she welcomed Health Minister Robin Swann's drive to tackle the issue.

“It was very clear from our discussion that we share a determination to play our part in improving society’s mental health and well-being.," she said.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said the problem is not just a matter for the Department of Health.

“Mental health does not discriminate. It’s an issue that affects people in all walks of life, across all communities," she said.

“All parties in the Executive recognise this and we are all committed to keeping this issue at the heart of government. We will work across departments and sectors to tackle this issue from every angle.”

On Tuesday, high-profile figures from the worlds of entertainment, sport, education and the voluntary sector called on Robin Swann to declare a public emergency on suicide.

In a letter published in the Belfast Telegraph, stars including Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody and boxer Carl Frampton requested an immediate doubling of funding available for counselling and a guarantee that no one will wait more than 28 days for an appointment.

"The current suicide reduction target of 10% over five years, equating to roughly six deaths a year being prevented, is wholly inadequate," the signatories said.

"Similarly, the funding allocation of £10.35million - a miniscule 0.2% of the overall health budget - is a fraction of what’s required."

In 2017/18 alone, more than 300 people died by suicide in Northern Ireland.

Robin Swann said he is committed to doing everything he can to improve people's mental health.

"However, this is an issue that requires a strategic, coordinated and sustained approach across government departments," he added.

“I very much welcome the support of the entire Executive in making suicide prevention and mental health a top priority and the commitment to work across departmental boundaries to make progress on this crucial issue.”

Belfast Telegraph