A Mid-Ulster mental health group has expressed concern that a major campaign on mental health awareness is failing rural areas.
S.T.E.P.S (Suicide Talking, Educating, Preventing, Support) say a Freedom of Information request revealed that little or no consideration was given to the needs of rural areas when developing the recent ‘Under the Surface’ public information campaign, despite a total spend of £451,416 .
The aim of the campaign was to encourage people to seek help if they had concerns around their mental health, however the information showed that the campaign was less effective in reaching those who lived outside the Belfast area.
Karen McGuigan from STEPS said: “There is growing concern in Draperstown and the surrounding areas that the number of deaths by suicides is rising, and official statistics are starting to reflect this.
“Yet the information we received shows that the different needs of rural areas were not considered when this campaign was launched”
“The response to the Freedom of Information request shows that the Public Health Agency’s evaluation of the ‘Under The Surface’ media campaign stated that awareness of both the newspaper and radio advertisements was significantly higher in Belfast, compared to the Northern Trust area.”
The percentage of people who remembered seeing the campaign advert in a newspaper was twice as high in the Belfast Trust as it was in the Northern Trust.
Karen continued: “We believe the lower awareness in the Northern Trust area could be due to the fact that press advertisements were not placed in local papers and the radio advertisements were only aired on four radio stations throughout Northern Ireland.”
STEPS also expressed concern that the ‘Under the Surface’ campaign provided only a website as a point of contact for further information as internet access is often less available in rural areas, and older people often have less access to the internet.
“The information received by STEPS shows that these concerns were raised during focus groups, and the suggestion to provide a phone number was made, but not followed up on.
Karen added “Given that the PHA’s latest plan for suicide prevention 2013 – 2014 makes reference to the development, launch and evaluation of a new public information campaign, we hope that lessons will be learned and consideration will be given to the needs of rural areas”
Clare Watson, development worker with the Participation and the Practice of Rights Project, who has been working with S.T.E.P.S added “Consultation on a campaign needs to ensure that local groups have involvement at every stage of the process, not only with regard to the content of the campaign but also on how it can best be delivered locally.”