MLA who lost sister to suicide speaks out over lack of suicide prevention strategy

Mark H Durkan.
Mark H Durkan.

An MLA who lost a sister to suicide has said the failure to introduce a new suicide prevention strategy for Northern Ireland is “simply not good enough.”

Today marks World Suicide Prevention Day, organised by the World Health Organisation to raise awareness around the globe that suicide can be prevented.

SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan, whose sister Gabrielle died by suicide in 2011, said: “World Suicide Prevention Day will be a tough day for some, but it is also an opportunity for us as a society to stop and reflect and remind those around us that they are not alone. Suicide has sadly become such a prevalent issue in our society and a reality for too many families, friends and loved ones.”

The MLA for Foyle continued: “Earlier this year I wrote to the Permanent Secretary for the Department of Health to ask for a suicide prevention task force to be set up in the North West due to the sheer number of incidents that have occurred in my constituency and across the region.

“Unfortunately, as the figures show, suicide is not specific to any one constituency, age or gender. Nobody is immune. We must ensure that people are aware of the help that is available and we must continue to invest in our mental health services. It is absolutely imperative that we establish and implement a suicide prevention strategy for Northern Ireland – we need to do everything we can to help those in despair.”

Mr Durkan continued: “The continued absence of Government here and the consequent failure to implement a new suicide prevention strategy is simply not good enough. We need a Government in place. A Government that is forward thinking and outward looking. One that embraces what our society needs and understands some of the tough realities of life. An Assembly won’t wave a magic wand but it could improve things and anything that might save even one life is well worth doing.”

Meanwhile, depression charity AWARE has expressed their concern over the number of young people that have taken their life in Northern Ireland during the first quarter of 2018.

Statistics released from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) have shown that of the 80 deaths registered as suicide between January and March 2018, almost half of them were young people aged 15 – 34.

Bernard McAnaney, AWARE Chairperson, said: “Unfortunately, the prevalence of mental illness in Northern Ireland is 25% higher than any other region of the UK yet our funding for mental health is significantly lower. As a charity, we are continually fundraising in a bid to increase our service to as many people as possible.”

He continued: “We are seeing an increase in demand for our services including the AWARE Support Groups and Support Mail service. AWARE Support Groups are free of charge and open to anyone over the age of 18. We have 25 Support Groups based in communities throughout Northern Ireland running on a weekly and fortnightly basis as well as an Online Support Group. Depression can be a very isolating illness and an AWARE Support Group gives people an opportunity to meet others with similar experiences and speak freely about how they are feeling.”