Health Minister Michelle O’Neill has said we must continue to work together across government and other sectors to reduce the suicide rate in the north of Ireland.
The Minister was speaking after the thirteenth meeting of the Ministerial Co-ordination Group on Suicide Prevention, where Executive Ministers provided updates on action being taken by their departments to contribute to the drive against suicide.
Michelle O’Neill said: “Sadly, the suicide rate remains stubbornly high at around 280 deaths each year despite direct investment under Protect Life of £7million annually. While there was an increase in suicide in 2015, the three year average rate for the north of Ireland has remained unchanged for the last 10 years. I have no doubt that, through the unstinting efforts of community groups and statutory services, lives have been saved. However, every life lost is one too many and we must continue to work together across government and other sectors to reduce the incidence of suicide.
“There remains a strong health inequality aspect to suicide – in deprived areas, suicide is three times more prevalent than in the least deprived areas, while the incidence of self-harm is four times higher. Men continue to be three times more likely to die by suicide than women. This health inequality is something that I am determined to address and we must focus our resources on tackling the differential.”
The Minister outlined progress that has been made in suicide prevention since the last meeting in February 2016. This work includes:
- As part of all-island co-operation on suicide prevention, Health Minister Michelle O’Neill met with Mary Lou McDonald TD, all-Ireland spokesperson on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, to discuss areas of mutual concern.
- The Health Minister also met with community representatives from Belfast who have raised concerns regarding the pressures felt by voluntary and community sector organisations providing suicide prevention services. Minister O’Neill opened a major ‘Future Search’ suicide prevention in Belfast workshop at the Titanic Centre. The Public Health Agency has consulted on a new model for the Lifeline service and the Minister is considering the PHA consultation report on the proposed future model and options for the commissioning and delivery of the Lifeline service.
- Department of Education have been developing a self-assessment audit tool to assist schools assess progress on promoting and supporting the emotional health and wellbeing of pupils.
- Department of Justice continue to ensure widespread mental health, suicide prevention and self harm awareness training is provided for frontline prison and police custody staff.
- Department for Communities will soon be launching a new Young People and Wellbeing programme through the Arts Council and Public Health Agency.
The Minister reminded attendees that the new draft Protect Life 2 strategy is out for consultation and asked all Departments to review their actions as outlined in the action plan for the draft strategy. She said: “Suicide prevention is a huge challenge to our society and I want to see a consultation process that is meaningful and engages everyone.”
Anyone who is in distress or despair can contact the Lifeline Helpline on 0808 808 8000. Lifeline is a confidential service, where trained counsellors will listen and help immediately on the phone and follow up with other support if necessary. The helpline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.