Belfast Telegraph

MLA Durkan who lost sister to suicide says task force needed to address issue

By Donna Deeney

A politician whose sister took her own life has called for a special task force to address the north west's high suicide rate.

Foyle SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan's sister Gay died in 2011.

Mr Durkan wrote to the top civil servant in the Department of Health, permanent secretary Richard Pengelly, calling for "urgent action" on suicide.

In his letter he described suicide as an "ever increasing problem that is causing devastation to families and communities".

Mr Durkan said that while his own family had first-hand experience of the devastation it leaves behind, it was an experience that was all too familiar to many others.

"It has been nearly seven years since Gay died, but this is an issue that I have had an interest in and have done work on previously," he said.

"The sheer number of incidents, not just in terms of actually suicides, but suicide attempts, that we are hearing about and seeing in the city is not acceptable.

"There is an excellent Government campaign to reduce the number of road deaths called the Road to Zero, and I would like to see the same attitude and investment shown to mental health and suicide.

"People are continuously asking me what is being done. There are a lot of different agencies and groups working hard on this issue, but the general view out there is no one is doing anything. It is a matter of getting them around the table then showing the public that things are being done.

"The sad thing is my story of losing my sister to suicide is nothing special because everywhere you turn in this city, you will find other families who also know what it is like to lose someone to suicide."

Mr Durkan said he still dwells on things he could have said or noticed.

He added: "One of the most difficult things for me is how often I wrack my brain, wondering and thinking what I could have seen, what I could have said, or what I could have done for Gay.

"One of the worst things about suicide is the unanswered questions, the self-interrogation that leaves a lot of families, friends and work colleagues forever struggling for answers.

"We have reached the situation where suicide is now normal, that should not be the case."

If you, or anyone close to you, is affected by any issues in this article, contact the Samaritans free on 116123, or Lifeline on 080 8808 8000

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