Call to tackle ‘unacceptable suicide rate’

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A total of 159 people have taken their own lives in Mid Ulster over the past 12 years.

The shocking statistic was revealed by Ulster Unionist Councillor George Shiels who is calling for more support for those suffering from mental ill health in the workplace.

Members of Mid Ulster Council gave their unanimous support to his motion at the monthly meeting requesting a meeting with the Permanent Secretary of Health and that council writes to the Secretary of State requesting her to release the Protect Life 2 Strategy delayed due to the absence of the Stormont.

Councillor Shiels said everyone recognised that the levels of suicide across Northern Ireland are “unacceptable”,

“We recognise the very great trauma and despair experienced by an ever-increasing share of our workforce, individuals suffering from depression and other forms of mental ill health,” he said.

“We know this because the experts tell us, but we cannot really fathom the extent of the problem because those suffering do so in silence, the stigma attached to mental illness is extant in today’s society and is a very effective blanket.”

Referring to the Thriving At Work initiative, promised by the Prime Minister as a means of tackling mental health issues in the NHS and Civil Service, Councillor Shiels called for workers in Northern Ireland to benefit from its recommendations to employers.

He said the 40 recommendations would introduce a set of enhanced standards to provide support for anyone with a mental health condition and help them stay at work.

“This will give employees the knowledge, tools and confidence to look after their own mental health and to support colleagues who may need help,” he continued.

“More than two million public sector workers will benefit from the changes, making the sector a hugely important standard bearer in the transformation of the workplace.”

Councillor Shiels said mental ill health affected a very large swathe of our workforce, allegedly ranging from one in six to 50 per cent.

“Whether the figure is one in six, as I read previously in the government inspired report, or one in two, these are attention gaining statistics, just think of the consequences for the economy of Mid Ulster if even a smidgeon of these figures is accurate,” he said.

Given Northern Ireland’s “dubious distinction” of being top of the ‘UK suicide league’ fed by the lowest level of funding to address mental health issues, he argued Mid Ulster Council had a right to ask what provision, if any, the Prime Minister has made for the transformation of good mental health within the province’s workforce.

He added: “If provision has been made then the Permanent Secretary should be in a position to inform this council. It is important that the Protect Life Strategy 2 should be implemented forthwith and the Secretary of State has the power here.”