The total number of people to have died from suicide in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday Agreement has surpassed the total number of people killed during the Troubles, according to mental health charities.
Together for You, a group of Northern Ireland’s leading mental health charities, the Mental Health Foundation and the Royal College of Psychiatrists are to meet Westminster MPs and peers seeking action on the worsening mental health crisis in Northern Ireland.
The group are highlighting that more people have died through suicide since the Belfast Agreement was signed than died in the entirety of the Troubles.
More than 4,400 suicides were registered in Northern Ireland in the 19 years between 1998 and 2016, whilst during the Troubles, between 1969 and 1997, it is estimated that 3,600 people died.
The delegation, which is led by Action Mental Health and the Mental Health Foundation, say the worsening crisis is being exacerbated by Northern Ireland’s ongoing political dysfunction.
Following the recent collapse of talks to restore the Stormont Executive after 13 months of no functioning government in Northern Ireland, the advocates will demand that Westminster acts quickly to deliver the agreed mental health priorities.
A range of initiatives already have cross party support including a regional trauma service to address the mental health legacy of the conflict.
The delegation, led by David Babington, Chief Executive of Action Mental Health and Dr Iris Elliott, Head of Policy and Research of the Mental Health Foundation, will highlight the dire state of Northern Ireland mental health service provision and the urgent need for clear policy and increased funding.
David Babington of Action Mental Health said the group had come to London to say Westminster needs to sit up and take notice.
“The rest of the UK needs to understand that while we in Northern Ireland have endured over a year with no functioning government, our health service is being starved of funding and decision making, and we are seeing a deeply worrying rate of suicide.
"It’s hard to believe that more people have now died through suicide than were killed in the Troubles, but the statistic is very real and so is the suffering taking place here. This cannot be allowed to continue. Where is the duty of care to the people of Northern Ireland? Moreover, where is the £50 Million in extra funding for mental health which was promised nearly a year ago? Is anyone in charge?
He added: “We have been calling for the appointment of a Mental Health Champion to work across government in Northern Ireland to tackle the mental health crisis for years. This appointment is more pertinent now than ever in the face of ongoing political deadlock. Northern Ireland has a 25% higher overall prevalence of mental illness than England – 1 in 5 adults here has a mental health condition at any one time. People are dying and this is simply unacceptable."
Dr Iris Elliott of the Mental Health Foundation added: “We cannot achieve a peaceful society in Northern Ireland without peaceful minds. If we invest in mental health support and work together to prevent mental health problems, then mental health will be an asset for our society.
"The failure to deliver for mental health over the last 13 months, and indeed over the last 20 years since the Peace Settlement, is unacceptable. Mental Health Foundation is standing alongside Northern Ireland mental health charities and professional bodies to call for immediate Government action.
"During the last 13 months we have lost so many opportunities to support people experiencing mental health problems and prevent their occurrence. Therefore, commitments secured need to be robustly monitored by politicians at Westminster. Whatever form of Government we have in Northern Ireland, mental health must be its top priority.”
The chair of the Northern Ireland Royal College of Psychiatrists, Gerry Lynch said: “It is imperative that mental health policy and service development doesn’t stagnate in the absence of a devolved administration. Given the underfunding of mental health care in Northern Ireland, new policies and reforms must be driven forward as a matter of urgency."
A reception will take place at 3pm on Tuesday February 20 in Committee Room 19. Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, MP for Lagan Valley, will host and chair the event.