Belfast Telegraph

Stephen Clements death underlines Northern Ireland's mental health crisis

Stephen Clements
Stephen Clements

Editor's Viewpoint

A wonderful broadcasting talent has been extinguished by the sudden and tragic death of Stephen Clements who only recently started his dream job on Radio Ulster. He was a man who appeared to have the world at his feet but all his hopes and dreams are now extinguished.

The hundreds of online messages paying tribute to Stephen showed the esteem he was held in right across Northern Ireland.

Political leaders of all hues joined in with dedicated listeners to laud the Carrick man who had made his name as a presenter on Q Radio.

Radio is a very intimate broadcasting medium and Stephen was one of those figures who was able to strike up a virtual friendship with people he heard but probably never met. That is a quality which makes idols of broadcasters and Stephen was idolised by thousands for his charm and wit and everyman approachability.

For many the controversy over his recruitment by the BBC to replace the very popular Sean Coyle could have been a daunting start to his new job but he quickly found his own niche, got into his stride and attracted his own audience.

The death of such a high profile figure again underlines the suicide crisis in the province. Five times as many people take their own lives annually as die on our roads. The toll in the last year for which figures are available ran at an average of six a week.

The Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride has described mental health and its associated suicide rate as the biggest challenge facing the health service here. Northern Ireland has the highest suicide rate on these island with the most vulnerable men in the teenage to 45 years age groups.

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As Dr McBride says there is no silver bullet solution to halt the inexorable rise in the death toll. Instead society as a whole needs to be involved.

Of course greater investment in mental health services is required although an extra £9m has been committed in the current financial year, surprising even those lobby groups demanding more funding.

However it should be remembered that 70% of those who take their own lives are not known to the health service and are therefore beyond the reach of whatever help is available.

The suggestion made by some politicians involved in the inter-party talks at Stormont that a junior minister should be appointed to a mental health portfolio if devolution is restored is an innovative proposal. A problem which is running at unacceptable levels - Stephen's death is only one of several already in the first week of the new decade.

The crisis is all the more serious because many of those who die in this manner did not exhibit traits which would pinpoint them as particularly at risk. Who knows that trigger determines that they feel death is a solution to the darkness they experience? From the outside it is difficult to believe that life can have so little meaning that taking it is seen as a preferable option.

Sadly that is how some must feel in the moments before they make their fateful and fatal decision.

Stephen's brother says he is shattered at his death and that feeling must be shared by all who were close to him, not least his wife and two young children. All of them will be wondering how life came to this tragic juncture and will be mourning a man who had so much to offer. It is time politicians stopped wrangling over a language which is thriving and restore government to tackle the problem of people dying.

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