Declare a public health emergency on suicide in Northern Ireland and do the following:
1. Immediately double the funding available for counselling.
2. Ensure that nobody waits more than 28 days for a counselling appointment.
Why is this important?
In September 2019 the Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride stated that there is no greater public health challenge than suicide. Sadly, in these first weeks of 2020, his statement has proven all too accurate, with the tragic loss of yet more precious lives by suicide. More families have been plunged into unbearable grief and pain and communities have been left reeling, struggling to make sense of it all.
Suicide is something everybody hopes never comes to their door, but the reality as we’ve seen is that it can affect any family.
Yet we know that suicide is preventable, is not inevitable and can never be the answer. Mental illness is a risk factor in relation to suicide but mental illness does not necessarily lead to suicidal behaviour.
Access to the right support at the right time can prevent suicide and right across our communities there are numerous excellent suicide prevention and crisis intervention services working tirelessly to help keep people safe and to reduce the risk of suicide.
More people have died by suicide since the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement than died as a direct result of the conflict. Our rates of suicide are the highest across these islands, something that is receiving international attention for all the wrong reasons.
Behind the statistic of 307 deaths by suicide in 2018 are individuals who were much loved and continue to be mourned by their loved ones.
While the suicide prevention strategy Protect Life 2 contains many good initiatives that must be fully resourced and implemented, it is clear that something more, and of a different measure, is now needed to tackle this crisis. It is regrettable that the New Decade New Approach document does not specifically address the issue of suicide.
Alarm bells are ringing in all communities.
The current suicide reduction target of 10% over 5 years, equating to roughly 6 deaths a year being prevented, is wholly inadequate. Similarly, the funding allocation of £10.35 million – a miniscule 0.2% of the overall health budget – is a fraction of what’s required. Access to services is piece-meal and waiting times for counselling vary greatly across Trusts, with people being forced to wait several months for an initial appointment.
Going forward, it is vital for you to ensure that suicide prevention is prioritised within the upcoming Programme for Government, not only by your own department, but around the Executive table. Given the concentration of deaths by suicide in deprived communities, commitments in New Decade, New Approach, designed to address poverty and inequality, must also be recognised as suicide prevention measures and resourced accordingly.
How it will be delivered
To be confirmed.