Funding Of £4m To Tackle Suicide

More than £4m will be spent on tackling suicide in Northern Ireland over the next two years, Health Minister Shaun Woodward has said.

The number of people who took their own life soared by almost 50% last year to 213 according to figures from NI’s General Registrar’s Office. Mr Woodward said this made the need to tackle the issue even more urgent.

As part of the investment a senior medical post to help tackle suicide and mental health issues will be created.

“I want mental health services to move to the centre of our thinking. To be given the priority it deserves,” Mr Woodward said. He said the Northern Ireland Director for Mental Health would work across government “and act as a chief advocate for the improvement of the mental health of the Northern Ireland population”.

Mr Woodward launched a government suicide prevention strategy on Thursday, entitled “Protect Life”, costing almost £2m. The government’s initiative was compiled from the recommendations of a report into the issue by voluntary and statutory agencies.

Families in Northern Ireland who have lost loved ones to suicide also helped conduct the research. A further £2.4m has also been set aside for the government’s suicide prevention strategy for 2007/08.

Philip McTaggart, co-founder of the Public Initiative for the Prevention of Suicide and Self Harm (PIPS), said he was “gobsmacked” by the number of people in Northern Ireland who took their own lives last year.

“The government and the system has let them down,” he said. “We were being told it was around 150 per year and that the figure had dropped but that did not match up with what we were dealing with in north and west Belfast.”

He said part of the problem was that young people were waiting up to three months to see a counsellor. Mr McTaggart welcomed news of the government funding but said it was a “drop in the ocean” given the increased suicide rate in some of the most deprived areas of Northern Ireland.

Dr Brian Dunn, chairman of the British Medical Association’s NI GPs committee, said he welcomed the initiative: “The commitment by the NI health minister, Shaun Woodward, to involve the BMA in the development of a depression awareness training programme for GPs is also welcome and we look forward to playing an active part in its design and promotion.”

In 2003, there were 144 suicides (112 males and 32 females) in Northern Ireland. The following year there was a marginal increase to 146 (105 males and 41 females).

The Department of Health said no gender breakdown was yet available for 2005.