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 Maeve McLaughlin Maeve McLaughlin Sinn Féin 4:15 pm, 12th May 2015

Go raibh maith agat. I thank the Member for the opportunity to speak on this topic. However, it is a difficult and emotive subject for all of us but one that, nonetheless, requires the House's reflection and, indeed, action.

I want to take the opportunity to welcome and congratulate the new Health Minister on his appointment. I appreciate his attendance today and look forward to his response on this very important issue.

As the Member said, suicide is an issue that blights and has blighted our island, and almost every city and, indeed, village knows the pain of losing people through suicide. Right across the island and right across our health systems, mental health protection is considerably lower down the importance scale, and that is a challenge for our society in moving forward. The European average spend on mental health is around 12% of the budget, and there is an onus and responsibility on us to bring our budgetary lines into line with that average. It also needs to be reflected that the gap between suicide rates in deprived areas and less deprived areas can be as much as 73%. As the Member pointed out, the child poverty statistics for Foyle highlight that, in some areas, more than 60% of children are living in poverty. There is a direct correlation with some of these issues.

We should reflect on the statistics. In 2011, there were 39 deaths by suicide in the Western Trust. In 2013, there were 51. So, there is a challenge in our city and region. The Member quite rightly mentioned the University of Ulster study, which showed that 77% of all suicides that were looked at were by males and 23% were by females. There was evidence of alcohol consumption in at least 41% of the cases. That is across the Six Counties, but, nonetheless, we need to be mindful of that figure.

Another figure that was quite stark was that just over half of those who died by suicide — 50·1% — were known to have a mental health disorder. That is a direct correlation that needs to be reflected on.

When I reflect on my city, I think that, generally, although addiction is not always linked to suicide rates, it is nonetheless important for us to reflect that the nature of addiction has changed. For many generations, addiction in most cases was to either alcohol or drugs. Now it is polysubstance. Therefore, interventions, responses, rehabilitation and detoxification need to be altered accordingly.

There has been much very vocal debate, as the Member said, about the need for a detox facility for Derry. Detox, however, is only one very specialised part of treating the issue. Our city needs support for early intervention work that tackles the root causes of addiction, and it needs crisis intervention models. We collectively need to understand and target early the root causes of mental health problems and addiction, and we need to look at models of crisis intervention and at the crisis intervention services when those gaps appear.

Over the last year, Sinn Féin has established an addiction task force in the city. To date, 20 statutory, voluntary and other organisations have signed up to the urgency of that task force. The aim of the task force is very clear: to provide the evidence-based case for the city. In essence, it will examine what works — as the proposer said, a lot of services work — where the gaps are and how we can address them. That intervention is often about a crisis intervention model or what is increasingly being called a safe space model, where a young person can go with trained counsellors in a safe environment until the next intervention is agreed and not missed. That is a similar model to what is proposed through the FASA project in Belfast.

I will make this point about detox: what is ironic about the debate is that Derry has a purpose-built detoxification unit based on our doorstep. The White Oaks facility in Muff in County Donegal was purpose-built for detox in its layout, yet it is not in operation. I appeal to the new Health Minister to bring freshness and a fresh approach to the debate. I throw out an invitation to the Health Minister to visit the facility, which has been purpose-built for that function. I look forward to the Minister's response on that.

Addiction does not respect gender, class, disability, sexual orientation, religion or borders. It is vital that, as part of the debate in dealing with addiction issues, we reflect on and move towards making the facility in Donegal operational.


Daniel Anthony Williams
Posted on 17 May 2015 8:15 pm

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