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12 January 2006 Edition

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Suicide report shocking insight - Gerry Adams

Suicide and self harm - West and North Belfast worst affected

A new report on the extent of suicide and self-harm in the North has produced new statistics revealing the extent of the problem, the failures of the health authorities to tackle it, and linked social deprivation to the significantly higher numbers of deaths in areas like West and North Belfast.

Sinn Féin President and West Belfast MP Gerry Adams described new figures, contained in the Interim Report from the Suicide Taskforce as "deeply disturbing". He said: "These statistics give a shocking insight into the extent of suicide and self-harm in the North of Ireland, but in particular in West and North Belfast where levels are twice the Six-County average."

In June of last year the Sinn Féin West Belfast MP, along with community activists from the West and North of the city and a number of bereaved families met the Health Minister Shaun Woodward. In the same month Sinn Féin held a successful conference at Stormont calling the creation of a taskforce to develop a Suicide Prevention Strategy. The party also demanded the allocation of funds to resource this strategy and an integrated all-Ireland approach to ensure that it is effectively tackled.

Following this the Suicide Taskforce was established by the Minister for Health. Its final draft strategy, which will include recommendations for consultation will be published soon. In the meantime the interim report has now become available.

This report gives a very clear picture of the scale of the problem and the failures thus far by the health authorities in tackling this problem. The statistics make appaling and frightening reading. For example; there were 9.8 suicides per 100,000 persons per year from 1999 to 2003. But in West and North Belfast this rose to 18.1 and 17.9 respectively, almost twice the North's average. It is the largest killer of males from non disease related causes, and 79% of all suicides are male. Figures on self-harm are also alarming.

The link between deprivation and suicide and self-harm stands out starkly in the report with the suicide rate in deprived areas 75% greater than in non-deprived areas.

The failure of the health systems to deal with this issue is evident in the review by the taskforce of the ten action points in the Promoting Mental Health Strategy and Action Plan. These failures are attributed to lack of 'recurrent funding and dedicated resources, lack of co-ordination and health service priority and inability to successfully engage GPs and other health professionals on this issue'.

The report's strengths lie in those measures it identifies as necessary for meeting the challenge of suicide prevention; including improved training and development for professional staff and social services, further development of programmes in local communities offering parenting skills, strong linkages and commitment between government departments, the need to develop more accessible services outside normal working hours, need to ensure counselling services are properly regulated and resourced and much more.

Commenting on the report Gerry Adams said: "This 'Interim Report from the Suicide Taskforce' is a useful first step but that is all it is. The key to progress will be determined by the draft strategy and the commitment of government to implement and resource it, including a commitment to an all-Ireland approach to this issue. The next steps are vital if suicide prevention and the saving of lives is to become real.

"The Department of Health has now published its Priorities and Budget for 2006-'08. I welcome the fact that it states that 'priority will be given to reducing the number of suicides.' However, its results which will count."

Age standardised suicide rate per 100,000 persons by Parliamentary Constituency (1999-2003) (From Suicide Taskforce Interim Report)

Parliamentary Constituency

• Belfast West 18.1

• Belfast North 17.9

• Upper Bann 11.3

• West Tyrone 10.9

• South Down 10.4

• South Antrim 9.9

• Newry and Armagh 9.7

• North Down 9.4

• Belfast South 9.3

• North Antrim 9.3

• Lagan Valley 8.9

• Foyle 8.8

• Strangford 8.8

• East Derry 7.9

• Fermanagh & South Tyrone 7.9

• Belfast East 7.1

• East Antrim 6.3

• Mid Ulster 5.5

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