Suicide deaths in North hit 318 – the highest on record
Figures obtained by Detail Data show of suicide fatalities registered, 245 were male
A total of 7,697 suicides were registered in Northern Ireland from the beginning of 1970 to the end of 2015. Photograph: Getty Images
A total of 318 suicides were registered in Northern Ireland last year, the highest annual death toll since records began in 1970.
The figures mean an average of six people each week took their own lives in 2015 and represent a 19 per cent increase on the suicides recorded in 2014.
Of the suicide deaths registered last year, 77 per cent (245) were male. One hundred and thirty-two were between 15 and 34-years-old and five people were aged 75 or older. Ninety-three were recorded as being in the Belfast Health Trust area.
The figures for 2015 were obtained by Detail Data, which is part of Belfast-based investigative news website The Detail and is in a partnership with the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action. The figures were compiled from the Registrar General’s quarterly reports for 2015 which contain figures on births, stillbirths, deaths, marriages and civil partnerships in Northern Ireland. Suicide deaths can take time to be fully investigated and registered. Of the 268 suicides registered in 2014, 133 occurred in 2014, 123 took place in 2013 and 12 in 2012 or earlier.
Reacting to the figures, Northern Health Minister Michelle O’Neill told Detail Data the suicide rate was “unacceptably high” but stressed that suicide rates are calculated on a five-year rolling average “to provide an accurate picture and avoid fluctuations. The suicide rate in the North of Ireland has remained quite stable for the last 10 years.”
A total of 7,697 suicides were registered in Northern Ireland from the beginning of 1970 to the end of 2015. Northern Ireland’s Protect Life suicide prevention strategy and action plan was launched in 2006 in response to the increasing rate of suicide. About £7 million (€8.3 million) is spent annually on suicide prevention.
Ms O’Neill said suicide was “a highly complex issue and a result of unique interaction between personal circumstances, wider societal influences, emotional resilience, and adverse life events. High levels of deprivation, the legacy of conflict, and high levels of mental ill-health create a very challenging set of circumstances for many people in the north of Ireland.”
She said that broader intervention “to improve the life chances and circumstances for more of our people” was required.
Statistics from the Self-Harm Registry also show that between April 2014 and March 2015 there were 8,888 self-harm presentations to emergency departments in Northern Ireland, involving 6,633 people.
A high number of suicide deaths has devastated families across Belfast, particularly in the north of the city.
The Belfast Suicide Prevention Forum is made up of more than 30 community and voluntary groups who are combining their expertise, experience and resources with the aim of reducing suicides.
Irene Sherry, from Bridge of Hope, Ashton Community Trust in north Belfast, said: “We have been lobbying strongly for a cross-departmental approach to suicide prevention that collaboratively works with the community sector . . . Social and economic deprivation, poverty, unemployment and the legacy of the conflict all play a part in the complex issue that is suicide and that is why we need a cross-departmental approach. We want to build the resilience of individuals, families and communities and we need a long term vision.”
Caroline King, from Contact NI, said: “There is help and support available. Thousands of people come through our door every year with suicidal thoughts and they do recover.”
Pat McGreevy, from the Suicide Down to Zero charity based in Downpatrick said is time to think about new and different approaches to suicide prevention in Northern Ireland.
“There are a lot of myths surrounding suicide that need to be challenged in a specific public information campaign. These myths include notions that talking about suicide puts it in people’s heads, that people who talk about suicide aren’t serious, that they may be attention seeking and that only professionals can deal with people who are suicidal. These all represent barriers to suicide prevention and reinforce stigma around the issue.”
More on this story is available at thedetail.tv/data
The Samaritans can be contacted by telephone on 116-123 or email: email@example.com. Lifeline is the Northern Ireland crisis response helpline service for people who are experiencing distress or despair. It can be contacted confidentially on 0808-808 8000.