Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Teacher's efforts to save young lives a welcome addition to initiatives aimed at lowering our shocking suicide rates

Editor's Viewpoint

It is well-known that the suicide rate here is high, but the figures from the Northern Irelaand Statistics and Research Agency are shocking by any measure.

The overall suicide rate has risen from 73 in 1970 to 297 in 2016.

There were many more suicide deaths among men than women.

In the corresponding period, there were 11 suicides in 1970 among people in the 15-29 age bracket. By 2016 this figure had risen to 82.

Inspirational teacher Gary Clarke has left messages of hope on Londonderry's Foyle Bridge in an attempt to cut the city's spiralling suicide rate.

As a supply teacher at several local schools, he was touched by the young people with whom he was in contact, and who were affected by mental health problems, or who knew someone who was.

Initially he set up a Facebook page called 'Messages of Hope-Foyle Bridge', as a way of reaching out to anyone feeling suicidal.

He has now expanded this initiative to include the bridge itself.

The public have responded positively, and individuals have left messages letting people know that they are not alone.

Gary says: "If something simple like leaving a message on the Foyle Bridge saves a life and changes even one person's mind, then I have achieved what I wanted."

Suicide is such a modern day scourge, particularly in parts of Derry and Belfast, that anything that might mitigate its effects is worth trying.

The fact that more people have died here through suicide since the republican and loyalist ceasefires than during the decades of the Troubles is a truly shocking indictment of our society.

Gary knows well that he will not solve single-handedly the huge problem of suicide in Derry, and indeed how could he?

However, if there were more people like him, it would definitely be a good start.

Belfast Telegraph

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