Derry politicians unite in calls to address mental health and suicide crisis

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There have been cross-partisan calls for action to tackle what has been described as a mental health crisis in Derry.

Politicians from across the spectrum have spoken out after new data from the Samaritans showed the suicide rate per 100,000 people in the North was higher than anywhere in Ireland or Britain.

According to the suicide prevention charity 16.3 out of every 100,000 people living here died by suicide in 2018, more than in Scotland (14.6), Wales (12.8), UK (11.2), England (10.3) and the Republic of Ireland (7.2). And the suicide rate in Derry remains among the highest in the North.

SDLP health spokesman Mark H. Durkan said: “We are witnessing a mental health crisis here in NI - as explicitly laid out in the Samaritans Report. It makes for grim reading and I am particularly struck by the numbers next to the 10-14 age bracket.

“These are loved ones lost and failed by a system, reduced to numbers on the latest harrowing report. We must not resign ourselves to stoicism on such matters, to adopt a silent acceptance that the North will top figures on any poor mental health report within these islands.

“It is the duty of all parties to make a commitment now to ensure this generation will be given the opportunity to build a brighter future. It’s time to show leadership and take action on the mental health crisis.”

Mr. Durkan said local politicians needed to make the issue a foremost priority.

“It is the duty of all parties to make a commitment now to ensure this generation will be given the opportunity to build a brighter future. It’s time to show leadership and take action on the mental health crisis. There is help out there, there is hope- we need to come together to deliver it,” he said.

Sinn Féin’s health spokesperson on Derry City & Strabane District Council Sandra Duffy called for sustained funding for the implementation of the North’s Suicide Prevention Strategy – Protect Life 2 – to tackle the “mental health and suicide crisis”.

“Parties collectively secured the Department of Health’s publication of the strategy and we need to build on this progress. All Departments have signed up to their role in tackling the suicide and mental health crisis through the Protect Life 2 strategy, their actions need to match their commitments. We need to see mental health given parity of esteem with physical health, not seen as a Cinderella service or side-lined, if we are going to tackle the mental health crisis,” she said.

DUP peer Willie Hay said: “One area where there is severe suffering is mental health provision. More people have died since the Troubles through suicide than died during the Troubles. That figure is a dramatic but true representation of what is happening to mental health in NI. We urgently need more investment in mental health. NI has a much higher need than the average across the UK and the need is certainly growing.”

Amid these calls a new programme to improve patient safety and reduce suicide rates has been launched in the Western Trust.

Towards Zero Suicide Patient Safety Collaborative involves all five Trusts and prisons and aims to research and adopt best practice in suicide prevention work across mental health services and the prison population.

Dr. Michael McBride, Chief Medical Officer said: “Every life lost to suicide in NI is an individual tragedy and a life changing experience for those who were close to the person. Towards Zero Suicide is an integral part of the Department of Health’s overall Protect Life 2 Strategy.”

It was introduced to the NHS by MerseyCare NHS Trust in England with early results indicating a drop in suicides of 23 per cent in three years.

Oscar Donnelly, who chairs the Toward Zero Suicide Patient Safety Collaborative,said: “We know that around 27 per cent of those in NI who have lost their lives to suicide have accessed mental health services in the year before their death. It is essential that we look at best practice elsewhere and bring this to Northern Ireland to improve patient safety and reduce death by suicide.”

Professor Siobhan O’Neill from Ulster University said: “Alongside local research, learning and lived experience it will provide a highly structured and informed lens through which we can analyse and improve the services we provide.”

The Lifeline helpline is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Anyone of any age in the North can call the Lifeline helpline for free on 0808 808 8000 if they are experiencing distress or despair.