Northern Ireland has highest rate of suicide in the UK but mental health funding is 25% less
Northern Ireland has the highest rate of suicide in the UK, official figures show.
Last year 297 people here took their own lives, according to a report by the Office for National Statistics.
Although UK rates show a fall in cases, there has been a rise in the suicide rates for Northern Irish and Scottish females, yesterday's bulletin said.
The 5,965 suicides registered in 2016 in the UK comprised 4,508 men and 1,457 women.
In Northern Ireland a total of 221 men and 76 women committed suicide in 2016 - the youngest was a male aged under 15.
Proportionately, our total was the highest in the UK.
The report said: "In Northern Ireland, we have observed a small decrease in the suicide rate for males and a small increase for females from 2015 to 2016."
In 2015 the highest number of victims in 10 years was recorded, amounting to 318 deaths.
Men in north Belfast, aged between 30 to 34, are most at risk with the area the worst affected since 2013, separate figures show.
SDLP MLA for north Belfast Nichola Mallon said: "So many lives have been lost and so many families left devastated by suicide in north Belfast.
"Christmas for many people is a joyous time but for others it can be a very difficult and dark time.
"It's so important that people know there is help available.
"There are people who can listen and help.
"It's okay to not be okay and above all else you are not alone."
Despite our high suicide rate, Northern Ireland receives 25% less funding for mental health services than the rest of the UK.
Claire Curran has been affected by suicide and now volunteers with the support group Survivors of Suicide in east Belfast.
She said the pain of loss is very difficult and has urged people to seek help.
"When people die from suicide it is a worse form of bereavement in a way because there is nowhere to put the blame," she said.
"It's different if the cause was cancer or a road accident, old age or even murder because there is something or someone to place the blame on.
"But with suicide there is often no reason and it was the person themselves who was responsible.
"Those left go through the stages of grief of anger and denial. You don't want to feel happy but you then feel guilty because that person is no longer here.
"You find ways to cope - new ways of normal.
"There is still a stigma about suicide, it needs to be talked about more."
Amanda O'Neill from the Public Health Authority in Northern Ireland said Christmas can create extra stress and feelings of loneliness.
She urged people to see family and friends to prevent isolation and avoid excessive alcohol and do more exercise if possible.
"Many of us will be looking forward to Christmas when we can spend more time with our family and friends," Ms O'Neill said.
"It is important to look out for behaviour that could indicate that someone is under pressure and really needs help.
"If you are worried about someone, start a conversation with them and talk to them about your concerns.
"Ask them how they are feeling and if there is anything you can do to help them."
If you or someone you know is in distress or despair, call Lifeline on 0808 808 8000. The helpline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also access the Lifeline website at www.lifelinehelpline.info