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Suicide deaths in 2015 the highest on record

In 2015 the number of suicide deaths registered in Northern Ireland reached it's highest annual toll since records began in 1970.

Despite over £7m being spent annually on suicide prevention, the equivalent of six people each week took their own lives here last year.

Using historic data held by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) we have been able to calculate that a total of 7,697 suicides were registered in Northern Ireland from 1970 to 2015. Of these deaths, 5,666 (73.6%) were males.

The figures also show that people aged 15 to 34 accounted for 41.5% of the suicides registered in 2015.

Statistics from the Self-Harm Registry also show that between April 2014 and March 2015 there were 8,888 self-harm presentations to emergency departments in Northern Ireland, involving 6,633 people. Young people aged 15-29 accounted for almost half (46%) of all of these cases.

Suicide rates in the most deprived areas of Northern Ireland are three times higher than the least deprived.

In response to the figures, Health Minister Michelle O’Neill said the suicide rate was “unacceptably high in the north" and that reducing the rate continues to be a priority for her department.

“High levels of deprivation, the legacy of conflict and high levels of mental ill-health create a very challenging set of circumstances for many people in the north of Ireland,” she said.

Pat McGreevy, from the Suicide Down to Zero charity based in Downpatrick, said the 2015 figures were “very concerning”.

"There is a lot of great suicide prevention work being done and it could be argued that, without this, the numbers dying from suicide could be even higher”

"There are a lot of myths surrounding suicide that need to be challenged in a specific public information campaign. These myths include notions that talking about suicide puts it in people’s heads, that people who talk about suicide aren’t serious, that they may be attention seeking and that only professionals can deal with people who are suicidal.

"These all represent barriers to suicide prevention and reinforce stigma around the issue.

Data

Today’s report is based on the suicide statistics from the Registrar General’s four quarterly reports for 2015. These reports contain figures on key life events in Northern Ireland - births, stillbirths, deaths, marriages and civil partnerships.

Suicide deaths can take time to be fully investigated and there is often a period of time between when the suicide occurs and when it is registered. For example, of the 268 suicides registered in 2014, 133 actually occurred in 2014, 123 took place in 2013 and 12 in 2012 or earlier.

The 2008/11 Programme for Government (PfG) set the target of an average annual suicide death rate of 10.7 per 100,000 of population over the three year period 2010 to 2012. This target was not achieved with the rate increasing instead to 16 deaths.

Using the new 2015 data, we have calculated that the suicide rate remains at 16 deaths for 2013-15.

You can find this data on the Detail Data Portal.

Prevention

A ‘Future Search’ event will take place in Belfast in September to bring together a large collective of people to plan for innovative ways to address suicide.

There is no simple explanation for why someone chooses to die by suicide and it is rarely due to one particular factor. Mental health problems are important influences, as well as alcohol and substance misuse, feeling desperate, helpless or without hope.

Caroline King from counselling service Contact NI stressed that people can be saved from suicide:

"It is so important to focus on hope and recovery for people. One death from suicide is one too many."

The Belfast Forum for Suicide Prevention is made up of more than 30 community and voluntary groups who are working together to combine their expertise, experience and resources to reduce suicides.

Forum members Irene Sherry, Stephen Barr, Caroline King, Clare Flynn and Jo Murphy spoke to Detail Data.

Irene Sherry, from Bridge of Hope, Ashton Community Trust in north Belfast, said:

“Behind the suicide figures are individuals and their families.

 

“We have been lobbying strongly for a cross-departmental approach to suicide prevention that collaboratively works with the community sector and there has been a lot of active listening and engagement taking place. We have met with the Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride twice and the Health Minister Michelle O’Neill within the last month."

Jo Murphy from Lighthouse said:

“I think we need to get back to basics and look at how we build our communities. We need to skill people up to look out for each other. Some people don’t even know who their neighbours are. We also need to let people know that it’s okay to seek help."

Clare Flynn, a Suicide Prevention Development Officer in east Belfast, said:

"One of my concerns is that the current structure of services in Belfast leaves gaps in the services delivered across the city.

 

"Each area needs to be resourced for the delivery of early intervention, prevention, crisis services and support for those bereaved by suicide. We have several examples of best practice across these themes but these aren't yet being replicated in each local area due to the current funding structure.

 

To read the full story by Kathryn Torney, click here.

 

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