Restoring NI Assembly key to tackling suicide rate, says lobbyist

Mental health consultant cites slow decay in public services since powersharing collapse

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. File photograph: iStockPhoto

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. File photograph: iStockPhoto

 

A mental health consultant has called on political leaders in Northern Ireland to restore the Assembly in order 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 said 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.

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 per cent had been prescribed antidepressants.

Vivian McKinnon: “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.” File photograph: Twitter
Vivian McKinnon: “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.” File photograph: Twitter

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

Trauma of Troubles

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 per cent 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 per cent since 2014.

Suicide in Northern Ireland has increased by 18.5 per cent during the same period. – Press Association