Belfast Telegraph

Working together to tackle a tragic scourge on society

Niall O Donnghaile hopes today's Celebrating Life conference will make a real difference to how suicide is dealt with in the future

It is hard to believe that almost a year has passed since I set out my stall for my term in office. And high on my list of priorities was a commitment to help tackle the scourge of suicide.

Too many families across our city have been touched by the tragedy of suicide and, while acknowledging the good work being done by so many in the community, I want to play my part in addressing a subject which has such devastating consequences.

I deliberately gave today's community conference the title 'Celebrating Life' because I want to have a positive theme around a sensitive and complex question for our city and its residents.

As Belfast mayor, I hope what I have organised today will be direct engagement between statutory groups, local community groups, young people and their families - all of us working together to help in the difficult task of ending, if possible, or certainly reducing the frequency of, suicide in this city.

One of the biggest challenges faced by groups working within the community is lack of funding. The result is that too often they are forced to work reactively, rather than being able to properly develop preventative strategies.

As well as lobbying for increased resources, I am urging political and statutory agencies to review on an ongoing and positive basis their connections with our communities and the many groups doing excellent work within them.

One result of today's discussions will be a report to inform the development of an emotional resilience and wellbeing strategy for the city, a key priority of the Belfast Strategic Partnership.

The council's aim is to engage with local communities and consider the wide and diverse factors impacting on positive mental health and suicide-prevention in Belfast.

By identifying good practice and new approaches - including the vital role of the media - I hope we can recognise that everyone has a part to play in developing a resilient city.

Another outcome from today's conference will be the introduction of a comprehensive training programme for all politicians and staff in Belfast City Council on positive mental health and suicide awareness.

I will also be announcing an annual Lord Mayor's award, acknowledging individual efforts to help others.

Belfast has one of the youngest populations in Europe - one-fifth of our population is less than 16 years old. I am conscious of the need to enhance the quality of life for young people.

I am committed to helping our society reach out to vulnerable teenagers, to put measures in place which will help stem their feelings of isolation and despair.

We all - including politicians - need to actually listen to what our young people tell us. As a young man myself, I know that young people can make a valuable contribution. We want to be good neighbours, to work with others to improve the social and economic futures of our friends and families.

The people I meet daily as mayor tell me of the stresses and strains that are being placed on their families, businesses and communities. That is why the 'Celebrating Life' event is so important.

Through the hard work of a dedicated team, which has helped me pull this initiative together, I want to make a positive contribution to life in Belfast.

The message from today's conference to those in need of reassurance is: live for your family, for your friends, for your city and for your community.

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