Mid-Ulster suicide rates have more than trebled

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SUICIDE rates in the Mid Ulster area have more than trebled since 2003, with those most at risk being young men, it has been revealed.

Statistics released by the Assembly have shown a steady increase in suicides, from 0.7 per cent of all recorded deaths in 2003 to 2.2 per cent in the first nine months of 2011.

Male suicides more than trebled from 1.4 per cent in 2003 to 3.3 per cent in 2011. In 2003, 2004 and 2009 recorded no suicides by females compared with 1.4, 1.6 and 4.4 per cent by males.

Figures in those under 45 were the most dramatic, doubling from 2003 to just over 22 per cent of all recorded deaths, a stark statistic compared to 0.7 per cent of deaths in those over 45 years old.

Christine Rocks, from Magherafelt, knows first hand the consequences of suicide. Her daughter Samantha took her life six years ago when she was just 17 years old after several previous attempts.

“I did not know what was happening. She went from full of life, I didn’t have any bother with her, to everything going wrong. She just seemed to change.”

She blames influencing factors like alcohol, drugs, relationships, money as potential risks to young people.

She offers this advice to any parents going through problems with their child; “Make sure there is a lot of communication between you and the doctors, counsellors, the whole circle.”

She found the Niamh Louise Foundation a year ago and advises anyone struggling to contact them.

“It works both ways, for people who need help they can be signposted to the right place to get the help they need.

People like myself, who’ve lost someone can also get help. When I lost my daughter, I could find nowhere to go, not knowing what to do, it’s just a complete nightmare for the people left behind,” she said.

“It helps me and helping others helps me. I have seen people come in, and the change in them has been unbelievable.

There’s a network there and they know they are not alone in what they are feeling. Depression can be thought of as ‘get up and get on with it’, but it shouldn’t be like that and they can see people there going though the same thing, that they can relate to, talk to and they know they are not alone then.”

Co-founder of the Niamh Louise Foundation, Catherine Mc Bennett said it is hard to pinpoint one factor that contributes to suicide.

“There are many things that can contribute to a suicide, self worth or lack of self worth being one of the major contributing factors,” she said.

“Men in particular would seem to gain self worth from their jobs and how they provide for their families. In the current client with very few jobs available men and women are unable to provide for their families as they may have done in the past.

“Many individuals may need more professional care therefore it is very important that the GP is always contacted if someone is worried about their own thoughts of suicide or worried about others,” she added.

“It is important we educate our community to spot the signs and symptoms of someone who may be developing mental ill health or may have thoughts of suicide. Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) and Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) are two two-day courses that can help educate our community to watch out for our loved ones and help them seek the appropriate help.

“It is very important to remember if anyone is worried about a loved one, colleague or neighbour please listen- non-judgmentally; ask if they have thoughts of suicide. If this is not an option please contact the Niamh Louise Foundation on 02887753327 and we will offer support and advice.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Heath said that the Protect Life Suicide Prevention Strategy that aimed to lower suicide risks based on lower rates before 2005 was unlikely to be met.

“From 2006 a range of actions, based on international evidence of best practice, have been progressed as part of the implementation of the Protect Life Strategy,” they said.

“These include: training on suicide/mental health awareness; community-led suicide prevention/bereavement support services; local research into suicide; Deliberate Self Harm Registry in A&E Units; Lifeline 24/7 crisis response helpline; and programmes targeted at vulnerable young men.

“The Protect Life Strategy is currently being refreshed, and its Action Plan has also been updated and will include a number of new cross-departmental actions, along with a number of new objectives and associated indicators which will in future allow for a more balanced assessment of the wider impact of the strategy.”