02 January 2006

Suicide: an epidemic


Kevin Morrison, Youth Project Co-ordinator with the Echo Project, writes about the escalating suicide crisis and what is being done to educate our schoolchildren

West Belfast, Belfast, in fact the entire island of Ireland, has been significantly affected by the issue of suicide and self-harm for as long as we can care to remember.

Only in recent years is the taboo nature of suicide receding and the issue being given more of a priority.

In recent years we have also seen a careful examination of the causes of suicide and different strategies and measures have emerged to address this killer in our midst.

The statistics of suicide are even more alarming when compared to other causes of death in our society.

Road traffic accidents have a brutal and sudden way of impacting on our lives.
The nature of the horrific injuries sustained and cause of death is very public and penetrating.

Death and injury caused by road traffic accidents, drink driving and stolen vehicles are a very public concern and worry, and one we often champion to resolve.

According to World Health Organization estimates, in the year 2000, approximately one million people died from suicide, and 10 to 20 times more people attempted suicide worldwide.
This represents one death every 40 seconds and one attempt every 3 seconds, on average.

This also indicates that more people are dying from suicide than in all of the armed conflicts around the world and, in many places, about the same or more than those dying from traffic accidents.

One response that has emerged to address suicide is a model of intervention from a Canadian Public Services Corporation called ‘LivingWorks.’

This organisation’s primary focus is to create learning experiences that help communities prevent suicide.

The model of intervention that has been introduced to Ireland in the past number of years (the first ever in the Twinbrook area) is called ASIST, Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training.

Over half a million people worldwide have been trained in ASIST, which equips people with the necessary skills to deliver first aid intervention to a person who is considering suicide.

The Colin Community Forum, through its Colin Area Youth Capacity Build Programme, was central in getting eight local people from across all sectors trained to deliver the ASIST workshops.

To date, over 100 people have been trained as suicide first aid interventionists in the Colin Area, with more workshops planned for the New Year.

These people have included health workers, youth workers, community activitists, counsellors, doctors and nurses, those bereaved through suicide and those who have attempted suicide.

In a groundbreaking and bold move, the Colin Area Youth Capacity Build, in partnership with the Falls Community Council, the Lynx Project, Echo Youth Project and St. Colm’s High School brought, for the first time ever, the ASIST Workshop into a school.

Students and teachers together shared experiences, emotions and attitudes and developed skills central to the model of intervention.

Through role-playing scenarios, simulations and group discussion the issue of suicide was no more taboo and brought to the fore of these people’s lives, some who only several weeks ago experienced the death of a past pupil through suicide.

The students were excellent and although initially reserved, they fully participated in all the components of the workshop.

The contributions from both students and teachers ensured that this workshop was a success.

In my opinion, more schools need to be as progressive as St Colm’s High School and be proactive in seeking to address what should not be a taboo or unspeakable subject.

Suicide has killed many, many people in our community, and we need to work collectively together in a co-ordinated and organised manner to tackle this tragic cause of loss of life in our midst.

For further information on ASIST Workshops in the forthcoming New Year you can contact Bill McComb or Kevin Morrison at the Colin Community Forum, 02890 604004.

Journalist:: Staff Reporter

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