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Samaritans call for new NI legislation on self-harm and suicide games

Unite for the sake of saving young people’s lives, charity tells politicians


Campaign: Ulster Unionist MLA Robbie Butler, the Samaritans’ Ellen Finlay and Sinn Fein MLA Orlaithi Flynn

Campaign: Ulster Unionist MLA Robbie Butler, the Samaritans’ Ellen Finlay and Sinn Fein MLA Orlaithi Flynn

Campaign: Ulster Unionist MLA Robbie Butler, the Samaritans’ Ellen Finlay and Sinn Fein MLA Orlaithi Flynn

Online ‘games’ linked to self-harm and suicide should be criminalised, the Samaritans has said.

The charity, which deals with approximately 300 calls a day in Northern Ireland, wants the Assembly to pass legislation on the matter and keep suicide and self-harming high on the political agenda.

The Samaritans spoke out after a survey commissioned by the Northern Ireland Suicide Strategy Panel reported that at least one in 10 young people had self-harmed by the age of 16.

It also found that girls were three times more likely to harm themselves than boys, the chief factors being bullying, abuse and anxieties around their sexual orientation.

The Samaritans said many young people who harmed themselves had “high suicidal intent”, and that, of this group, a quarter had used the internet to find out more about self-harming.

Ellen Finlay, policy and development manager for the Samaritans in Northern Ireland, explained: “It is our vision that fewer people die by suicide, [but] realising this vision is everyone’s business.

“That’s why we are calling on politicians to unite and help us save lives.

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“Online, the prominence of suicide challenges has grown, yet a lack of legislation around assisting self-harm remains.

“Samaritans are urgently demanding that a new offence be created, [one of] encouraging or assisting serious self-harm with clearly malicious intent.”

‘Suicide challenges’ and games are designed to frighten and cause panic, and have the potential to cause harm “if attention is drawn to them”, the Samaritans said.

One, called the Blue Whale challenge, which extends over 50 days, has been linked to the deaths of a number of teenagers around the world.

More than 200 people died by suicide in Northern Ireland during 2019, the last year for which finalised figures are available.

However, there are fears that number could grow because of lockdowns, which are said to have affected mental health.

The Samaritans wants all medical and care staff to be given suicide prevention training “so they can spot the signs of mental ill-health and suicidal feelings”.

“Suicide is a cross-party, interfaith responsibility that touches us all,” Ms Finlay said.

“We are confident that with a focused, collaborative effort by the parties, true progress can be achieved.”

Samaritans regional director Alan Heron added: “Samaritans believe every politician can play an important role in preventing suicide by influencing party policy and keeping the issue high on the Assembly agenda.”

The Samaritans answered 121,444 calls in Northern Ireland in 2020, more than 300 a day, providing 32,858 hours of emotional support.

The voluntary organisation, which does not receive government funding, answers one call every three minutes.

It said callers’ biggest concerns in recent years were Covid, isolation and loneliness, family issues, mental health and illness and relationship problems.

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