A festive financial hangover has left people feeling increasingly desperate, a top suicide prevention campaigner has warned.
Martina McIlkenny, acting manager of Pips (Public Initiative in Preventing Suicide), said the anxiety caused by debts incurred over Christmas can lead to some people considering drastic action.
She said: “There is the stress of the build-up to Christmas then there is the pain of it afterwards when the bills start coming in.”
According to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, there were 303 suicides in Northern Ireland last year - the second highest number on record after 2010, when the suicide rate was 313.
Just over three-quarters (229) of them were men.
Ms McIlkenny said: “We would advise people, do not buy what you cannot afford. Limit yourself because, even though the kids might want expensive presents, if you can’t afford them and the stress of paying for them leaves you with darks thoughts then they are not going to have you next year - it’s not worth it.”
Pips’ new dedicated out-of-hours service dealt with more than 7,000 people in distress during the past year on top of the thousands who walk in between 9am and 5pm.
Ms McIlkenny said her organisation was braced for a surge in people needing help and has drafted in extra counsellors and extended its opening hours in anticipation of the influx.
“During 2012/13 we had a quiet Christmas. Our increase comes around January 15 when the bills come in and people feel they cannot cope.
“This year has been completely different. Our increase has started already so, if this is what it is like, who knows what it will be like in January?”
Ms McIlkenny added: “For many people there is a choice of heating their home, eating or paying off the debts from Christmas. But it doesn’t have to be a choice - there are people who can help deal with the finances and break it down into manageable pieces.
“No matter how big the debt is or what the problem is, it is important to remember that you are not on your own. There is always someone to talk to and to help break it down into something that is manageable.
“Although you can see a cut hand or a broken leg, you cannot see a broken mind but more people are aware of mental health problems now, so I would advise anyone feeling depressed or down to seek help.”
Karen McGuigan from the STEPS Mental Health group in Mid Ulster offered this advice: “As we begin a new year many of us reflect on last year and vow to make changes, get fit, eat healthy, live life to the full and appreciate what we have in life.
“But what if you find every day a struggle? What if you cant find the energy to make plans? What if you have to put a mask on just to get through the day? It is exhausting both mentally and physically.
“If you feel this way there is help you could talk to friends or family. You could talk to your GP. You could talk to groups like the Niamh Louise Foundation 028 877 53327. You could phone Lifeline 0808 808 8000 its a 24/7 helpline. Please know that 1 in 4 people will be affected by ill mental health in their lifetime. You are not alone ‘It is ok not to be ok and it is absolutely to ask for help’.”