15 March 2006

Fears rise of suicide rate spiral

Daily Ireland

By Connla Young

Health chiefs were yesterday again urged to develop an all-Ireland strategy to deal with the island’s spiralling suicide crisis.
The call comes as fears grow that last year’s suicide rate in the North will exceed the 2004 figure of 146. Figures obtained by Daily Ireland show that, by the end of the third quarter of last year, 127 people died as a result of suicide.
Health chiefs are currently in the process of collating a final figure for last year. This is to be revealed in the coming weeks.
South of the border, 282 people are registered as having died as a result of suicide in the first three quarters of last year.
Calls for an all-Ireland strategy coincided with the first meeting of the National Forum on Suicide Prevention, which focuses on suicide only in the South. The forum met in Dublin yesterday.
Phil McTaggart, who helps run the Belfast-based Public Initiative for the Prevention of Suicide and Self-Harm, last night demanded the establishment of an all-Ireland strategy to deal with the issue. Mr McTaggart’s 17-year-old son Philip took his own life in 2003.
Health chiefs on both sides of the border have provisionally estimated that around 600 people took their own lives in Ireland last year. More than 11,000 people were treated for deliberate self-harm at accident and emergency clinics.
Mr McTaggart’s call came as direct-rule minister Shaun Woodward prepared to announce a suicide-prevention package later this month.
The Belfast man said: “I have been to see 15 families whose children have tried to take their own lives since the start of the year.
“Four young people have taken their own lives in north Belfast since the start of the year. No matter how much Shaun Woodward pledges, it won’t be enough. If he gives just £1 million or £2 million, it’s just a drop in the ocean.
“There’s no doubt that we need an all-Ireland strategy. Over 600 people a year are taking their own lives in this country. We have the highest rate of suicide in Europe, and a higher rate of young people dying through suicide than on our roads.
“We need a strategy that’s going to help all our people. We have to look outside the box and deal with this throughout the country.
“People need services and they need access to services and we need to get the voluntary services working with the professionals and develop that all-Ireland strategy. The launch of the forum in Dublin can only be welcomed,” said Mr McTaggart.
President Mary McAleese told the National Forum on Suicide Prevention that a joined-up approach to dealing with suicide was required.
“International evidence shows that reducing the suicide rate requires a collective, concerted effort from all groups in society — health, social services and other professionals, communities, voluntary and statutory agencies and organisations, parents, friends, neighbours and individuals.
“I look forward to seeing the growth of a culture and environment where people in psychological distress don’t hesitate to seek help from family, friends and health professionals — a culture where we recognise the signs and signals of that distress and help guide ourselves or others to good help, a culture where we focus early in life on developing good coping skills and avoiding harmful practices,” said President McAleese.
Tim O’Malley, minister of state at the Department of Health and Children, said adequate services were essential to tackle suicide.
“We all have our part to play in helping those who may experience and face adverse events in life and emotions and feelings so strong that they consider taking their own lives.
“We must aim to provide accessible, sensitive, appropriate and, where required, intensive support in a more comprehensive, co-ordinated and cohesive manner,” he said.

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