Belfast Telegraph

We can fight agonising tide of suicide

There was a very poignant comment during a walk in Belfast to mark World Suicide Prevention Day.

One participant in the annual event noted how sad it was to see new faces taking part. Those were the faces of people bereaved through suicide since last year. For them, an issue to which they may previously have paid little heed, had suddenly, bewilderingly, become a matter of intense personal sorrow. For them life can never be the same. They suffer the grief of loss, but often the death comes without explanation.

The statistics are shocking and frightening. During the summer 36 people took their own lives in Belfast. In one month, July, there were 30 suicides, six of them in the west of the city. Even more astonishingly, 12 people took their own lives in Cookstown, a relatively small town, over the summer. One person who works on the ground to counsel young people says he is particularly disturbed by the trend for women to take a more violent approach to suicide. The reasons for suicide are as many and as varied as the people who end their own lives. They may have financial problems, be caught in the grip of substance abuse, be threatened, have relationship problems, be in ill-health, either physical or mental. Often the actual trigger cannot be identified. Unlike health problems, where symptoms can be identified and, if possible, treated, there may be no indication that a person is on the verge of suicide.

However, on other occasions there can be obvious signs of depression or mental ill-health. It is a common complaint of relatives and those working in voluntary groups that not enough statutory resources are made available to help those with mental health problems. In-patient facilities are strictly limited and care within the community can be patchy. How many cries for help go unheeded or unnoticed?

It would be idealistic to imagine that even with unlimited resources all suicides could be prevented. However, that should not prevent society attempting to reach such an ideal situation. Of course, the Health Service has ceaselessly competing demands for finance and personnel and every new medical discovery prompts an immediate request from the public for it to be made widely available. For too long mental health services have been at the back of the queue for resources.

Historically, mental ill-health was something of a taboo subject and hence its bargaining power in the division of resources was low. That situation has been slow to change. But what has changed, and changed dramatically, is the profile of the condition. Sadly, that is due in part to the tragic toll of suicides. Every time a bereaved relative complains about how their loved one was turned away when they sought help for depression or an allied condition, it is brought home to the public just how woefully inadequate is the provision of professional help. Those who work in the field of mental ill-health deserve credit for their devotion to duty, but they need greater resources to enable them to help those on the verge of ending their own lives.

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