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Ministers meet to discuss suicide prevention

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Health Minister, Simon Hamilton, has said that Government and other sectors must work together to prevent suicide in our society.

The Minister was speaking at the twelfth meeting of the Ministerial Co-ordination Group on Suicide Prevention. At the meeting, Ministers provided updates on action being taken by their departments to contribute to the drive against suicide.

Health Minister, Simon Hamilton, said: “The suicide rate in Northern Ireland remains unacceptably high. The prevention of suicide is not just a health matter. Suicide is a behavioural outcome, not an illness. It results from a combination of social, psychological, and biological influences together with life events. This is why suicide prevention requires action on a wide range of fronts across Government and others sectors.

“This message is now well understood across Government and is reflected in the fact that ten Departments participated in today’s meeting. While the breadth of action being undertaken by all departments is commendable, this effort must be sustained and enhanced to tackle the risk factors for suicide.”

The Minister continued: “Frontline services that intervene when people are in crisis and which help them to recover remain vital, but these must be complemented with earlier intervention to improve emotional resilience and coping skills that help prevent people becoming suicidal.”

The Minister highlighted significant progress, including:

  • Joint working between Health and Education on the development of a Protecting Life in Schools framework to safeguard emotional health and wellbeing of pupils;
  • Continued investment by the Department for Social Development in the Neighbourhood Renewal projects that promote good mental health and well being, and provide counselling and addiction services;
  • Department for Employment and Learning investment of £25.2million in the Pathways to Success Strategy designed to meet the needs of young people not in education, training and employment, unemployment being a known risk factor for suicide. DEL is also aiming to promote positive mental health, both through work and in the workplace;
  • Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and Sport NI mental health awareness training for sports clubs and ongoing work with the governing bodies of sports associations to promote mental wellbeing and to determine the type of training necessary to deal with mental health issues, self-harm and suicide prevention;
  • Joint working between the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and Libraries NI to extend the latter’s ‘Health in Mind’, suicide prevention training programme to all rural libraries;
  • Joint working between the Arts Council and the Public Health Agency to develop a ‘Young People & Wellbeing Programme’ to build emotional resilience and promote positive mental health for young people through participation in the arts;
  • Department of Environment participation in a health and wellbeing initiative which is assessing the potential for reducing suicide attempts from key locations through the introduction of art work and other features that increase activity and enhance perception of these spaces;
  • Commitment by the Department for Regional Development to work with Translink in order to identify action that can be taken at any known suicide ‘hotspots’;
  • Commitment from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to continue the Farm Families Health Checks Programme, following its positive evaluation. The programme has provided over 9,000 ‘health checks’ for rural dwellers at livestock markets and community events, and where appropriate has signposted individuals to advice services on mental health related issues;
  • DHSSPS and the Department of Justice are developing a Joint Health Care and Criminal Justice Strategy, which covers the health (including mental health) and social care needs of people at all stages of the criminal justice journey;
  • An extensive range of suicide prevention training is in place in the PSNI, Prison Service, Youth Justice Agency, and Probation Board. All custody officers and prison officers are trained in suicide prevention. All remand and sentenced prisoners continue to receive initial and ongoing monitoring of their mental health and assessment of their risk of suicide and self-harm;
  • The Department of Justice has commissioned a guide to mental health for criminal justice professionals, as part of a wider programme designed to improve the criminal justice response to vulnerable people with mental health issues, learning disability or difficulties and speech, language and communication issues;
  • The Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment, through the Health and Safety Executive NI, continues to provide training, advice and assistance to employers on workplace stress. It also promotes implementation of the ‘Stress Management Standards’ that enable organisations to carry out mental wellbeing risk assessments and develop their own local policies for workplace stress;
  • Through its Victims Support Programme, the Office of the First and deputy First Minister supports a range of organisations to deliver services to meet the psychological needs of victims and survivors. The Department is also working with DHSSPS on options for enhancing mental health services for victims and survivors, including the new mental trauma service model. In addition, OFMDFM commissions specific support to assist victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse to address any issues that may arise during the Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry.

Explaining some important new developments in the implementation of the Protect Life Suicide Prevention Strategy, Public Health Agency Chief Executive, Dr Eddie Rooney, said: “Stigma is a major barrier to seeking help with emotional distress. The Public Health Agency is working with the Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health to develop a major mental health anti-stigma campaign ‘Change Your Mind’. Suicide and self-harm prevention services are in place across Northern Ireland to target support to those most in need.”

Dr Rooney added: “The clergy have a very important role in suicide prevention and a specific programme called ‘Flourish!’ has been developed with the help of the four main churches. ‘Flourish!’ equips the clergy with additional skills for dealing with the issue of suicide in their communities. The intention is to have the programme in action on a cross-border basis.”

It was agreed at the meeting that all Departments should continue to liaise with the Public Health Agency to ensure that suicide prevention efforts are co-ordinated with the overall implementation of the Protect Life Strategy. This is particularly important when developing new initiatives to ensure they complement and strengthen existing support and avoid duplication of effort.

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