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Lindy McDowell: We must listen to cries of parents over suicide toll


Like any mother, my heart goes out not only to those parents in west Belfast whose sons and daughters have taken their own lives in recent months, but also to all those other parents who will now, understandably enough, be fearing for their own children.

What has been happening in a part of the city where over 20 young people have already died by their own hand has been called an epidemic.

And in that one word is all the implicit horror of something that seems out of control — beyond our control.

What can be done to stop it?

Why, why is it happening?

Some areas — mainly working-class, mainly urban — do appear to have been particularly cruelly hit in recent years.

But no part of this place and no section of our society is immune from this darkest scourge of our times.

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Among the most poignant pictures in papers in recent days has been that shot of the young boxer, his hand held aloft after a winning bout.

Fresh-faced, clear-eyed, this was a good boy with everything to live for. This was a lad who was deeply loved. And more than that, one who knew he was deeply loved. He was an outgoing lad, full of life, full of fun, with family and friends and a fine future stretching ahead of him.

So why, why? Why do any of them do it? Why is it that so many of those who have taken their own lives are male? Those are the questions that haunt us all.

Speaking at the boy’s funeral the parish priest made the crucial point that there is no magic instant solution in terms of how we tackle our shocking suicide statistics.

But that shouldn’t stop us trying.

And whatever the economic constraints this should now be a priority for the Assembly. So much of the truly magnificent work that is currently being done is being carried out by local community workers and by the friends and family of those who have themselves lost someone.

But they need support. Whatever that costs, they should get it.

Above all in Northern Ireland we need a co-ordinated, province-wide strategy aimed at countering the problem in the first place as opposed to dealing with the horrifying results.

Facilities to deal with young people who may be deemed at risk need to be improved.

More resources need to be pumped into finding out what lies behind this scourge. And more funding needs to be put in place to counter the many contributory evils that may fuel it.

There needs to be an education programme, too, driving home to the young that there is help out there. Showing them that no matter how bleak or pointless their lives might seem, the bad times will pass. And that nothing is honestly ever truly that bad.

All this will cost money at a time when, granted, public money is in short supply.

But we owe it to those bereaved parents to make sure that something at least comes of their terrible suffering — that this “epidemic” is somehow stopped.

And we owe that especially to the memory of those bright-eyed lost boys and girls smiling from the obituary websites and the front pages, with all the promise and hope of youth. But robbed forever of the future.

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