Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: We must do more to tackle Northern Ireland suicide rate

The scale of the suicide crisis in Northern Ireland is well known. In 2018, 307 people took their own lives and the suicide rate here is the highest in the UK. Stock image posed by model
The scale of the suicide crisis in Northern Ireland is well known. In 2018, 307 people took their own lives and the suicide rate here is the highest in the UK. Stock image posed by model

Editor's Viewpoint

The scale of the suicide crisis in Northern Ireland is well known. In 2018, 307 people took their own lives and the suicide rate here is the highest in the UK. Three times as many people die by their own hand annually than are killed on the roads.

But reciting statistics does nothing to lower the rate of deaths. The figures show an upward trend. It takes the personal stories behind the statistics to shock us.

Anyone reading our accounts today of how suicide has affected two families cannot help but be moved.

Former barman Christian Grey died by his own hand in the early hours of Tuesday morning. He had been badly affected by mental health problems which had manifested themselves after the death of his teenage brother in 2015 from what the family says was an accidental drug overdose.

Also tragic is the story of the Strabane family which has lost three members to suicide - teenager Liam who took his life over the Christmas period five years after his older sister died in a similar way. A year later an uncle's body was recovered from the River Foyle after a six-week search.

Suicide is one of the most difficult forms of death for families to come to terms with and in these two families the scars of bewildered grief are all too apparent.

But what can be done to reverse this loss of predominantly young men? Chief medical officer Michael McBride says suicide is the biggest public health crisis in the province. He is undoubtedly correct but even he must acknowledge that it is a very difficult dilemma to tackle effectively.

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A strategy to reduce the number of suicides by 10% over the next five years was unveiled last year and contains 44 proposed actions. It would be a help if the inter-party talks which resume today result in a restoration of devolution at Stormont by January 13, but even if it does the appointment of a new Health Minister is no silver bullet.

More resources will also help as mental health services have traditionally been under-funded, but an extra £9m was put into suicide prevention measures in the current financial year. In practically any other area of the health service such a cash injection would produce almost immediate results, but such is the endemic nature of suicide here its impact has yet to be seen.

Perhaps we need shock advertising like that used to combat road deaths to hammer home the scale of the problem.

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