The Northern Ireland department of health has published a new suicide-prevention strategy that aims to reduce the level of suicide in the North by 10 per cent.
In 2017 there were 305 suicides recorded in Northern Ireland, a suicide rate that is double that of the Republic.
The figure for the North in the years 2015-2017 was 16½ suicides per 100,000 of the population. This compares with eight suicides per 100,000 population in the Republic and nine in England .
Men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women in Northern Ireland.
The department of health’s Protect Life 2 suicide prevention strategy sets out a five-year goal to reduce suicide and self-harm in the North.
“Suicide is preventable and not inevitable, yet almost every day in Northern Ireland a person takes their own life,” said the department’s permanent secretary, Richard Pengelly .
“While suicide rates here have remained relatively stable over the last decade, the level is, without a doubt, unacceptably high. How we address this is a challenge for all in government and society,” he added.
Mr Pengelly said the goal of Protect Life 2 is to reduce suicide rates by 10 per cent by 2024. “One of the aims is to deliver suicide-prevention services and support, with a particular focus on deprived areas where self-harm rates are highest and suicide rates are over 3½ times higher than those in the least deprived areas,” he said.
Currently, £8.7 million (€9.72 million) is invested on suicide prevention each year. An additional £1.35 million is being provided this year.
The North’s chief medical officer, Dr Michael McBride, said some of the initiatives from the Protect Life 2 programme were making a difference to people’s lives. He cited a multi-agency approach involving the health and social care (HSC) sector, the PSNI and the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service which was providing on-the-spot mental health support to people who were in distress.
“In addition, a Towards Zero Suicide initiative has recently been introduced in all HSC trusts and has a focus on patient safety in adult mental health. Similar initiatives in other parts of the world have seen significant decreases in suicide rates,” said Dr McBride.
“The toll suicide takes is not just measured in lives lost and anguish for families and communities. There is also an estimated wider societal cost of £1.55 million for each life lost,” he added.
“Right across government we must continue to prioritise investment in prevention,” said Dr McBride.
Mr Pengelly added: “Today is World Suicide Prevention Day and it is my expectation that this strategy will bring hope, support and clear direction for all involved in suicide prevention in Northern Ireland.”
Ulster Unionist Party assembly member Robbie Butler said he was disappointed that the suicide-reduction target was “only 10 per cent by 2024”.
“Given the sheer scale of the problem I would have thought a more ambitious target would have been much more appropriate,” he said.
“It is already deeply regrettable that Northern Ireland will come nowhere close to the World Health Organisation target of member states reducing suicide rates by 10 per cent by 2020. I hope that with this new strategy we can now use the next few years to exceed all targets,” he added.
“Were it not for the shameful absence of the assembly for almost the last three years, there is simply no doubt that this strategy would have already been implemented and lives would have potentially been saved,” said Mr Butler.