A deep sense of hopelessness about the future is a key factor in Northern Ireland suffering the highest UK suicide rate for the second year in a row, it is claimed.
Figures released by the Office for National Statistics show that during 2014 there were 16.5 suicides per 100,000 in Northern Ireland, 14.5 in Scotland, 10.3 in England and 9.2 in Wales.
It is the second consecutive year that Northern Ireland has recorded the UK’s highest suicide rate.
Pastor Jack McKee of the New Life Church off the Shankill Road in Belfast told the News Letter: “In recent weeks we have been closely involved in preventing several suicides.”
He added: “There is a deep sense of hopelessness. Many of the young people are unemployed or lack education and see suicide as a legitimate alternative which has already been taken by other people that they know.
“The feeling is that inner city Belfast has been left behind and they feel expendable.
“Throwing money at the problem is not a solution. It is about relationships.
“What needs to be recognised is work already being done on the ground to help people plan for their own future with the help of things such as mentoring.”
Dr Philip McGarry, consultant psychiatrist in the Belfast Trust and former chair of the Royal Colleges of Psychiatrists Northern Ireland, said suicide rates in Northern Ireland had been broadly dropping in line with England and Wales until 2004.
At that point they jumped up to Scottish rates, which are much higher due to deprivation and alcohol issues, he said.
“Nothing dramatic happened in Northern Ireland in 2004 to explain why the rates jumped up to Scottish levels,” he told the News Letter.
However, he suggested it could have been a delayed reaction after the Troubles.
“The theory is that in times of national crisis it would be trivial to worry about relationships or difficulties at work and communities bonded more closely together.”
But now the Troubles are over, people have more time to reflect.
Hazel Nunn, head of research at the Samaritans, advised anyone who may be considering suicide to talk about it as soon as possible to a friend, relative or GP.
Middle-aged men are particularly at risk, she said.
“Some key factors may be unemployment, relationship breakdown, the fragmentation of social networks and the fact that men may be more impulsive.”
• Samaritans freephone number: tel 116 123