Suicide Prevention: Londonderry

Part of Adjournment – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:15 pm on 12th May 2015.

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Photo of Gary Middleton Gary Middleton DUP 4:15 pm, 12th May 2015

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is a great honour to give my maiden speech to the House as the new MLA for Foyle. First, I would like to take this opportunity to thank my party and constituents for their encouragement and support thus far.

Sadly, it gives me no pleasure to discuss the topic of suicide, specifically in my own constituency in Londonderry. The issue of suicide prevention is a matter of huge public importance. Every one of us in this Chamber will have known someone who has taken their own life or attempted to do so. I, of course, am no different. It is something that is close to my heart, and my sympathies go out to all those who have been bereaved through such tragic circumstances.

A 2014 University of Ulster study of 1,671 suicides and probable suicides in Northern Ireland from 2005 to 2011 showed that 77% of those who died were male and 23% female. Just half of those who died by suicide were known to have a mental health disorder. Despite high levels of contact, a considerable proportion of suicidal people appear to be undiagnosed and untreated for their mental health problems. The 2013 figures show that there were 303 registered deaths by suicide, with provisional figures for 2014 showing that there were 268 suicides. Whilst it is welcome that, in Northern Ireland overall, there has been a decline in the number of suicides, some constituencies are seeing a rise and an increase in calls to organisations that help people who have suicidal thoughts.

One death by suicide is, of course, one too many. Suicide is preventable. We all have a stake in suicide prevention. The collective efforts of Departments, local organisations, mental health practitioners and related professionals can reduce the prevalence of suicide in our communities. Evidence suggests that access to crisis support, intervention and education can have a major impact in reducing the levels of suicide and preventing it.

I wish to take this opportunity to thank all organisations that are working with individuals on their mental health and any difficulties that they may be facing in their lives. Thanks also to our health professionals for the essential service that they provide. Many in our society may never require these services; it is only when we need help ourselves that we truly realise and appreciate their importance.

In the Foyle constituency, we are all too aware of the effects of suicide. Lives are lost, families devastated and communities broken. Between January and March this year alone, two bodies were recovered from the River Foyle by Foyle Search and Rescue. They have also taken one individual out of the river alive and 13 away from the river edge and bridges, while also having 17 causes of concern. I am sure that you will all agree that these figures are deeply concerning. Thankfully, with the work of Foyle Search and Rescue, lives are being saved and interventions put in place.

Suicide cannot be fully prevented until we understand why an individual has suicidal thoughts and what the causes are. According to health professionals, most often, suicidal thoughts are the result of feeling like you cannot cope when faced with what seems to be an overwhelming life situation. Individuals face a sort of tunnel vision, where, in the middle of a crisis, suicide appears to be the only way out. Individuals need help and support. Issues such as alcohol and drug abuse, relationship breakdowns, addictions, bullying and even financial difficulties can have a serious effect on our mental health. It is worth noting that any one of us can face these types of issues during our life and find ourselves in crisis. We must work together to ensure that the necessary services and help are available for those who need it.

As Members of this legislative Assembly, I believe that it is our duty to ensure that we do all that we can to assist suicide prevention. I believe that there are a number of ways in which we can work towards that. The first is by publishing the new suicide prevention and mental health promotion strategy. I know that that is under development, and I look forward to hearing from the Health Minister where that is at.

The second is by increasing public awareness through media campaigns. We have seen the impact of those types of campaigns on road safety, and there is no doubt that they have helped to increase the public's understanding around road traffic collisions and therefore helped to reduce the number of traffic-related deaths. We should further develop those types of campaigns in the area of mental health awareness and suicide prevention. Many individual organisations, schools and youth groups have already done so and are actively promoting the importance of looking after your mental health. In my constituency, the Cathedral Youth Club in the Fountain will shortly release a DVD to raise much-needed awareness among the youth sector and to teach our young people that there is always help available no matter how difficult the situation is.

Thirdly, I believe that further safety measures are required along our river edges and bridges to support the work of organisations and, of course, to help individuals. Additional CCTV would be of significant importance, along with additional signage to help those who need assistance and to make them aware of the services that are available. When interventions are made on the river edges, one of the main concerns is what assistance is then available for the individuals affected. Many would say that there are, at times, only two choices: either the A&E department or the police station. In light of that information, I plan to further work with the Health Minister and meet him to discuss the service provision in the Londonderry area for those who find themselves in difficulty and, indeed, whether a detox facility would be feasible. I want to pay tribute to all those who have been campaigning. There is a strong campaign on the ground in my constituency to raise awareness, seek support for additional services and maintain the services that we have.

I believe that it is now time that we all work together to eradicate suicide. With this being Mental Health Awareness Week, it is timely that we are having this Adjournment debate. I hope that we can take stock from the debate and move forward together towards a brighter future for all.

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Daniel Anthony Williams
Posted on 14 May 2015 7:49 pm

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Daniel Anthony Williams
Posted on 14 May 2015 7:50 pm

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Daniel Anthony Williams
Posted on 23 May 2015 7:37 pm

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