08 September 2005

Shrine to suicide victims inspired children's commissioner


08/09/2005 - 13:18:19

Northern Ireland's Children’s Commissioner today told how a street corner shrine to lost lives made him appreciate the scale of the North’s suicide problem.

Nigel Williams recalled a poignant trip to north Belfast where he stood before a collage of tributes and said it inspired him to address the issue as a matter of urgency.

On a tour of the area a youth worker pointed out homes were young people had taken their own lives or had practised self-harm.

Mr Williams said: “It was just a litany of horrific stories, all in a very small area.

“Then we got the end of the street and there was a little shrine to those young people who had lost their lives.

“Their pictures were there and there were candles.

“If anything needed to bring home to us the the importance of more work being necessary on this issue, that certainly did.”

The commissioner recalled the emotional trip at the Belfast launch of the Message to the Minister campaign.

The initiative is designed to encourage young people to express their views on the subject to Health Minister Shaun Woodward via the NICCY (Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People) website.

A total of 150 young people took their lives in the North last year.

But although suicide levels across the North stand at around an average of eight per 100,000 population, in north and west Belfast the figure has soared to 18.

The commissioner said his office had been directly involved in a number of tragic cases involving young people who were feeling suicidal but there was insufficient psychiatric provisions and nowhere safe for them go.

On the challenges faced by his team, he added: “At times it has been an incredible struggle and fight simply because there is not enough provision.

“It’s not that those on the other end of the phone, working in health and social services, don’t want to help.

“It’s just that they don’t have sufficient resources, sufficient beds, sufficient people to respond to all the needs that young people have when they are desperate.”

Messages to the minister – who has appointed a suicide task force – can be sent by clicking on a link on www.niccy.org

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