Belfast Telegraph

Family of tragic Dean McIlwaine call for patrols on Belfast's Cave Hill to aid those in distress

By Victoria Leonard

The grieving family of Dean McIlwaine are appealing for suicide prevention patrols on Cave Hill.

The 22-year-old Newtownabbey barber was found dead at the beauty spot last July.

His family spoke out after the body of Michael Cullen (33) were found there last week following a three-week search for the missing man.

His funeral will take place tomorrow morning at Sacred Heart Church on Oldpark Road.

Dean McIlwaine's aunt Ann Taylor (62) is calling for extra measures to prevent more people from taking their lives in the Cave Hill area.

"My sister Karen, her husband Rod and my nephew Glen find it hard to accept Dean's passing," she said.

"They have to get up and go on, but when they close the door at night it's a different story.

"The joy has left their lives - it's like they're dead behind the eyes."

Ms Taylor said more needed to be done to address mental health issues in Belfast.

"Where suicide is concerned, if someone is in that frame of mind they may feel that there is no way out, and if they do get as far as going somewhere like Cave Hill, then a dedicated suicide prevention warden might make the difference between life and death," she said.

"At the very least there should be wardens patrolling the main routes every day.

"I would also be keen to see signage up at Cave Hill with the numbers of counselling organisations, which people could ring if they are in distress. Even if there was a bench or something with a big sign on it that someone sees as they are walking up there. It could save another family from going through what we have had to endure."

She added: "I don't want Cave Hill to become a suicide hotspot.

"Perhaps fencing off some of the pathways or closing them at night could help. It would make it easier to patrol.

"There's nothing more precious than a life. Even if it saves only one life it would be worth it."

SDLP MLA Nichola Mallon said she had been contacted by people who feel a simple message of hope and helpline numbers should be provided.

She said: "I have put in a request (to Belfast City Council) to give serious consideration to putting signage in Cave Hill and other areas where we have had tragedies.

"We need to speak to experts. But my thinking and a number of people, friends of Michael Cullen and others who have been bereaved by suicide, have contacted me and what we are thinking is a simple message of hope and helpline numbers.

"So if anyone is feeling distressed there is a message of hope, and sign posting and clearly displaying who they can call to get help.

"We think it's a very practical thing that could make a difference.

"If it saves one person it's worth doing."

Pat Lynch of mental health charity Aware NI urged anyone with concerns to seek help.

"In Northern Ireland, six times more people die of suicide than on our roads - it's the equivalent of having a plane crash every year," he pointed out.

"It's a huge issue for our society, and it can affect anybody at any time."

Belfast City Council, which is responsible for Cave Hill Country Park, said it had staff working there every day.

"Belfast City Council is part of the Protect Life Implementation Group and works closely with the health trusts, the Public Health Agency and others in suicide prevention in the city," it said.

"We have trained our park wardens and safer neighbourhood officers in internationally recognised 'SafeTalk' training to enable them to support anyone they encounter feeling particularly anxious or distressed.

"Currently, we are also looking at incorporating the Lifeline number in to some of our public signage to ensure people in crisis know support is available.

"Belfast City Council is very much aware that every person lost to suicide is a tragedy that affects families, friends and the wider community. We extend our condolences to the recently bereaved families."

Anyone who is feeling anxious or depressed can contact Lifeline's free, 24-hour crisis helpline on 0808 808 8000.

Belfast Telegraph

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