Mark H Durkan: We must find mental health ‘champion’

Foyle SDLP MLA Mark Durkan.
Foyle SDLP MLA Mark Durkan.
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A Foyle MLA has called for the appointment of an ‘independent champion’ to represent those with mental health difficulties after figures revealed that 235 people have died through suicide in the western region over the last four years.

The figures were released after Mark H Durkan requested them in a question at the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Mr Durkan, who is Chair of the Stormont All Party Group on Mental Health, asked for the number of deaths registered to suicide in all health and social care trusts from 2010 onwards.

The year 2014 is that last time period for which finalised figures were available.

In 2010, within the Western Health and Social Care Trust, deaths registered to suicide were 53; in 2011 the figure was 39; in 2012 the number was 46; in 2014 it was 51 and in 2014 the figure was 46 - a total of 235 deaths.

In the same timeframe (2010-2014) the figure for the Belfast Trust was 371; in the Northern area it was 321. In the South Eastern region the number was 261 and in the Southern Trust the figure was 262.

In short, over the last four years across Northern Ireland the number of deaths registered to suicide was 1,451.

The Department of Health however, stipulated that in considering what it described as ‘suicide events,’ it is normal to include cases where the cause of death is classified as either ‘suicide and self-inflicted injury’ or ‘undetermined intent.’

Speaking in the Assembly, Mr. Durkan said: “Politicians often talk about the need to treat mental health on a par with physical health.

“But the meagre share of our budget dedicated to mental health continues to be absolutely shameful.

“The direct and indirect costs associated with mental illness are immense but, shocking as those figures are, they do not touch on the real human cost.

“People have their lives put on hold; or even lose their lives as they wait months on diagnosis and treatment.

“That’s why a further regional review of mental health services is required to assess the scale of fragmentation that users have experienced, particularly in rural areas.

“Mental health service provision should be a priority for the Assembly and for the Executive.

“That’s why those suffering from mental health challenges deserve an independent champion, someone who will keep these issues at the top of agenda.”

The SDLP MLA also asked the Minister of Health whether the Suicide Liaison Officer post in the Western Health and Social Care Trust had been filled.

In response Mark Durkan was told that the WHSCT had recently appointed two Suicide Family Liaison Officers to cover the western region.

One of the officers is already in position with the second due to commence that post in August.