Call to restore Stormont as suicide rates continue to rise

A mental health consultant has called on political leaders to restore the Assembly to tackle the rising suicide rate.

Vivian McKinnon, the regional co-ordinator of Smart Recovery – an organisation which provides assistance to individuals seeking help for addictions, has called on politicians to ensure funding reaches those in crisis.

Ms McKinnon says since the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly two years ago, there has been a slow decay in public services across the country, with those most vulnerable being hit hardest.

“In the first 18 months without our devolved government, 463 people in Northern Ireland died by suicide,” she said.

Ulster powersharing
Talks are under way to try and restore powersharing at Stormont (Niall Carson/PA)

Over the past 20 years, suicide rates in Northern Ireland have substantially increased, particularly among men, and mental illness is the largest cause of ill health and disability across the province, higher than any other region in the UK.

A study by Ulster University, commissioned by the Public Health Agency, noted there was a strong association between substance abuse and suicide, with half of those who died having made previous attempts or recorded as having suicidal thoughts, and 40% had been prescribed antidepressants.

Campaigners say that Northern Ireland’s health service is already under pressure from lack of funding and further cuts, and that those who in need of support for addictions and mental health problems are being left without adequate treatment and support.

Mental health researchers studying the rate of suicide in Northern Ireland say one theory is related to the trauma suffered by people during the Troubles.

“Medicating the symptoms does not provide a long-term solution,” Ms McKinnon added.

“We need to identify the trauma and source of the pain.

“I have found that success comes from educating people on the power of choice and supporting them, giving them the skills to understand the way they have been programmed to behave and to show they have the power to transform their lives.

“The legacy of trauma results in those affected at that time experiencing difficulty in relationships with their own children and family, resulting in further trauma and mental health problems.

“We need a powerful government in place who prioritises mental health and suicide prevention and works to actively remedy factors which impact those issues, such as social deprivation.

“With 40% of people in Northern Ireland living with the symptoms of trauma, things will only get worse.”

Northern Ireland spends less than half per capita supporting people suffering with mental health issues than in England.

Suicide rates in Northern Ireland are rising at a faster rate than the rest of the UK.

According to a report by the Samaritans, overall suicide rates in the UK have increased by 3.8% since 2014.

Suicide in Northern Ireland has increased by 18.5% during the same period.

Northern Ireland’s powersharing institutions imploded in January 2017 amid a row over a botched green energy scheme.

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