MLA urges ‘immediate intervention from government’ to tackle alarming trend
The number of lives lost to suicide in Northern Ireland increased by more than 30% in the last four years, alarming new figures have revealed.
In 2020, 198 people took their own lives, according to official statistics. This is up from 149 in 2016. Provisional figures for January to March 2021 show that 71 died by suicide over this period.
According to a recent Assembly research paper into suicide in Northern Ireland, around 70% of people who die by suicide here are not known to mental health services, which makes it "particularly challenging" regarding efforts to prevent it.
"People in Northern Ireland are estimated to experience 20-25% higher levels of mental health illness compared to the rest of the UK. In addition, Northern Ireland has the lowest levels of mental health spend in the UK and Ireland," the report said. "Research indicates that one in eight children in Northern Ireland report having suicidal thoughts or having attempted suicide. Men are more likely to die by suicide than women, although more women attempt suicide. Suicide rates in the most deprived areas are three times higher than the least deprived areas."
SDLP health spokesperson Cara Hunter said the fact that the number of people who have lost their lives to suicide has increased every year since 2016 is an "alarming" trend that needs "immediate intervention from every level and every corner of government".
"But it also represents a personal tragedy for almost 1,000 families. Almost everyone in our communities has personal experience of losing a loved one to suicide," she added.
"We all know what the problems are — access to acute services for those in immediate distress, long term security of funding for crisis intervention services and a greater focus on emotional wellbeing. We need to build an urgent political consensus around these solutions."
People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll, a member of Stormont's Health Committee, added: "Unfortunately, a familiar story I hear too often is one in which people who do reach out for help, are still forced to wait for lengthy periods of time while their mental health deteriorates when what they need is urgent intervention and support. The Health Department and the Executive needs to address this problem to ensure when people to reach out they get the help they need, when they need it.
"We also need to work quickly to alleviate the pressures and difficulties that modern life places on too many shoulders that can lead to a worsening of people's mental health. Political leaders have an important task to move away from a society based on division and misery and paint a pathway to a positive and inclusive society that people can feel a part of and invested in."
The Department of Health said its Protect Life 2 strategy on suicide and self-harm will continue to work in tandem with its Mental Health Strategy to ensure synchronised service delivery.
"A wide number of actions, services and initiatives delivered under Protect Life 2 complement our mental health work. This includes services such as Multi Agency Triage Team, Lifeline, Towards Zero Suicide programme, bereavement support services, self harm services and stigma reduction," it added.
Last month, Health Minister Robin Swann also launched a 10-year mental health strategy.