Local sport and music stars call for suicide prevention to be prioritised

James McClean ©INPHO/Ryan ByrneJames McClean ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne
James McClean ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne
An open letter has called for the new appointed health minister to declare a public health emergency on suicide.

The letter to UUP MLA Robin Swann has been signed by notable figures from sport, the arts as well as individuals and organisations from the community and voluntary sector, business and trade unions, youth, media, health, education and legal fields.

Among the local people to have signed are Stoke City player and Republic of Ireland international James McClean, Paralympic Gold medallist Jason Smyth, Louise Gallagher, of Gallagher Films, representatives from The Playhouse, filmmaker Margo Harkin, singer SOAK and Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody.

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The letter, produced by the #123GP campaign of families and carers with direct experience of mental health services, calls for an immediate doubling of the funding available for counselling

It also calls for the introduction of targets ensuring that no one will wait more than 28 days for a counselling appointment.

The North has the highest suicide rate in the UK and Ireland, with 307 people dying by suicide in the year 2017/18.

More people have died by suicide since the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement back in 1998 than were killed as a direct result of the conflict.

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The letter is critical of the current target set by the Department of Health’s Protect Life 2 strategy.

It states: “The current suicide reduction target of 10% over five years, equating to roughly six deaths a year being prevented, is wholly inadequate.

“Similarly, the funding allocation of £10.35 million - a miniscule 0.2 per cent 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.”

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The letter said it is ‘vital’ suicide prevention is ‘prioritised within the upcoming Programme for Government, not just in the Department of Health, 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.”

*The Lifeline helpline is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year, free of charge on 0808 808 8000 if people are experiencing distress or despair. People can also phone the Samaritans 24 hours a day on 116 123.