30 March 2006

Suicides in NI 'up by nearly 50%'

BBC

The number of suicides in Northern Ireland soared by almost 50% last year, new statistics have revealed.

Figures from the General Registrar's Office showed that 213 people in NI took their own lives in 2005.

The figures were released ahead of an announcement on a government suicide prevention strategy, entitled "Protect Life", costing almost £2m.

Health Minister Shaun Woodward said the increase in suicides made the need to tackle the issue even more urgent.

"The fact that 213 people took their own lives clearly is a problem which we all have a duty to address," he said.

"This year's increases make the need to tackle the underlying causes of suicide and self harm all the more necessary and urgent."

The government's suicide prevention strategy was compiled from the recommendations of a report into the issue by voluntary and statutory agencies.

Families in Northern Ireland who have lost loved ones to suicide also helped conduct the research.

A further £2.4m has also been set aside for the government's suicide prevention strategy for 2007/08.

Philip McTaggart, co-founder of the Public Initiative for the Prevention of Suicide and Self Harm (PIPS), said he was "gobsmacked" by the number of people in Northern Ireland who took their own lives last year.

"The government and the system has let them down," he said.

"We were being told it was around 150 per year and that the figure had dropped but that did not match up with what we were dealing with in north and west Belfast."

He said part of the problem was that young people were waiting up to three months to see a counsellor.

Mr McTaggart welcomed news of the government funding but said it was a "drop in the ocean" given the increased suicide rate in some of the most deprived areas of Northern Ireland.

In 2003, there were 144 suicides (112 males and 32 females) in Northern Ireland. The following year there was a marginal increase to 146 (105 males and 41 females).

The Department of Health said no gender breakdown was yet available for 2005.

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