A festive financial hangover has left people feeling increasingly desperate, a top suicide prevention campaigner has warned.
Martina McIlkenny, acting manager of Pips (Public Initiative in Preventing Suicide), said the anxiety caused by debts incurred over Christmas can lead to some people considering drastic action.
She said: “There is the stress of the build-up to Christmas then there is the pain of it afterwards when the bills start coming in.”
According to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, there were 303 suicides in Northern Ireland last year - the second highest number on record after 2010, when the suicide rate was 313.
Just over three-quarters (229) of them were men. Problems were also particularly high in deprived areas of north, west and east Belfast..
Ms McIlkenny said: “We would advise people, do not buy what you cannot afford. Limit yourself because, even though the kids might want expensive presents, if you can’t afford them and the stress of paying for them leaves you with darks thoughts then they are not going to have you next year - it’s not worth it.”
Pips’ new dedicated out-of-hours service dealt with more than 7,000 people in distress during the past year on top of the thousands who walk in between 9am and 5pm.
Ms McIlkenny said her organisation was braced for a surge in people needing help and has drafted in extra counsellors and extended its opening hours in anticipation of the influx.
“During 2012/13 we had a quiet Christmas. Our increase comes around January 15 when the bills come in and people feel they cannot cope.
“This year has been completely different. Our increase has started already so, if this is what it is like, who knows what it will be like in January?”
Ms McIlkenny added: “For many people there is a choice of heating their home, eating or paying off the debts from Christmas. But it doesn’t have to be a choice - there are people who can help deal with the finances and break it down into manageable pieces.
“No matter how big the debt is or what the problem is, it is important to remember that you are not on your own. There is always someone to talk to and to help break it down into something that is manageable.
“Although you can see a cut hand or a broken leg, you cannot see a broken mind but more people are aware of mental health problems now, so I would advise anyone feeling depressed or down to seek help.”