Larne is suffering from a “hidden problem” of self harm amongst young people, some of whom are as young as 11, according to a support group.
Public initiative Prevention of Suicide and Self Harm (PIPS) Larne Chair Carlee Letson spoke out after statistics revealed that there had been an increase in the number of suicides or attempted suicides in the past year.
A Freedom of Information request to the PSNI revealed that there were 24 suicides or attempted suicides in the Mid and East Antrim area in 2016.
This represents an increase of four on the previous year, when Northern Ireland Statistical Research Agency (NISRA) statistics showed that there were 20 recorded deaths from suicide in the Mid and East Antrim local government district.
Carlee said that she feared the problem could increase even further.
“It can be down to factors like peer pressure, school, being under pressure at university, using drugs and alcohol or family problems,” she explained.
“People are having to use foodbanks and losing their jobs and when they don’t come forward for help feelings of suicide may increase.
“Young people seem to suffer the most, problems with drugs and drink can lead to suicidal feelings, there may be problems with school and underachievement.
“At PIPS Larne we are full to the neck at the moment, we are dealing with people every single day and we are seeing an increase.
“I fear it could get even worse.”
Over Christmas, Carlee says that “quite a few” people sought PIPS Larne’s aid.
Worryingly, she says her organisation has seen a “real increase in self harm” amongst young girls and boys in Larne.
“It can start at 11 with them doing wee things which can lead on to other self-harming,” she explained.
“I think it’s more young girls but boys are catching up rapidly. It is a cry for help.”
Describing the issue as a “hidden problem in the town,” Carlee says trained counsellors from PIPS and its partner organisations Extern, Start 360 and Zest work with those affected to tackle the cause.
“I would like to see more awareness of this locally; there are a lot of people not coming forward for help,” she said.
“We would advise people to contact their GP first and PIPS Larne’s helpline on 07530797716.”
DUP MLA Gordon Lyons praised the “fantastic” work of PIPS Larne, and described the increase in the number of suicides and attempted suicides as “very worrying.”
“If PIPS Larne wasn’t there the figure could be a lot higher,” he stated.
“It’s very worrying that this has gone up, it should be a cause of concern to all of us.
“My bigger fear is we don’t know the full extent of this problem, a lot can go unreported.
“We need to make sure there is support for those in that situation where they are getting to the stage of taking their own life or attempting it.
“The message I would send is don’t be afraid to get help and talk to people, tell people how you are feeling, come forward and ask for help.
“Behind each of those suicide figures there are family and friends, it’s not just those 20 to 24 people, it has a much bigger effect.”
When asked how Mid and East Antrim Council is tackling mental health issues, a spokesperson said: “Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has representatives on several Public Health Agency (PHA) working groups including those dedicated to mental health issues.
“One example of this partnership approach is that Council, where necessary, will provide appropriate premises in which counselling on such issues as suicide awareness and other mental health issues can take place, (with counsellors from the PHA).
“In addition, Council staff are already ‘signposting’ those in need of mental health services to the appropriate agencies when these are encountered.”
The spokesperson said that council is already working with PIPS Larne and Preventing Addiction Larne (PAL) through the PCSP.
“PCSP is currently working with PIPs on the development of a programme for delivery which will include financial support from the PCSP,” he continued.
“PAL have already received funding in this financial year from PCSP to provide support and counselling in the Larne area.”
The spokesperson added that the PCSP also chairs and facilitates a forum for drugs and alcohol support workers, and works with the PHA and Northern Trust to provide support, information and services on these issues.
The PHA and Northern Trust are statutory partners in Mid and East Antrim’s community planning process, which is being led by the council, with good health and wellbeing strategic priorities.
The draft plan supports an early intervention and preventative approach.