Thursday, September 10, 2009
World Suicide Prevention Day
A section of the large number of people who attended Thursday mornings rally at the City Hall
September 10 09 World Suicide Prevention Day
Thursday was a beautiful morning in Belfast. Families bereaved through suicide had organised a ‘Walk of the darkness’ event at Belfast City Hall to raise awareness around suicide and suicide prevention.
Family groups, supported by activists on this issue, walked from several locations across the city, including the Shankill, Springhill, and Stormont.
At the City Hall ballons were released, songs were sang and poems were read reflecting the pain of relatives and their hope that through their actions they can save lives. It was a moving and emotional event held as the darkness gave way to the dawn.
Bobby Cosgrove of Survivors of Suicide from east Belfast, whose son died 21 years ago, revealed that this summer, between the beginning of July and the middle of August 30 people had taken their own lives in Belfast.
Suicide has taken a heavy toll in Ireland, north and south.
Figures in the south reveal that 424 people took their own lives in 2008. New figures show that in the north 282 suicides occurred last year. West and North Belfast each recorded the highest numbers with 22 deaths from suicide in the west of the City and 20 deaths from suicide in the north.
This means that suicide claimed 706 lives in Ireland last year – more than were killed in road accidents.
The impact on families and communities is devastating. The reality is that all sections and all generations of our society our affected, from the very young to the very old, and in rural and urban areas.
These shocking figures do not reveal the complete extent of this problem. Thousands more are admitted to hospitals every year as a result of self-harm and many cases go unreported.
A recent report in the south disclosed that there were 11,700 cases of deliberate self-harm presented at Accident and Emergency departments last year, with the biggest increase among men.
Despite this less money and fewer resources are allocated to tackling this issue.
There has been some progress in the north in recent years following the re-establishment of the political institutions.
The Department of Health in Belfast announced in April that it has allocated £6.7 million in this financial year for the implementation of the Suicide Prevention Strategy ‘Protect Life – A Shared Vision’, including £3.5 million for the very successful Lifeline service.
While there has also been some progress in the south it is clear that suicide awareness and prevention is not receiving the priority it demands. The government spends 10 times more money on road safety measures despite the fact that more people die as a result of suicide. The Irish government has also failed to live up to its commitments to reinvest money raised from the sale of land housing psychiatric hospitals into mental health.
Earlier this year an Oireachtas sub-committee report on this issue revealed that only 7 out of 33 recommendations it had made three years ago had been implemented.
What progress has been achieved is largely as a result of the unwavering determination of the bereaved families to highlight this issue and to demand change. Their strength in the face of this awful hurt is remarkable. They have been to the fore in helping others. They deserve not only our respect and praise; they deserve practical assistance and public investment.
They have been responsible for the establishment of a range of voluntary based organisations which have undoubtedly saved many lives.
They provide support for bereaved families, tackle the stigma of suicide which still exists, and have created safe and empathetic environments where those at risk can find help.
While suicide is now better understood than before, and it is accepted that suicide victims and survivors should be treated with compassion and care, the fact remains that only a tiny proportion of the budgets north and south are devoted to mental health.
Mental Health remains the Cinderella of the health services. And mental health treatment and services, especially those which are community-based, are still not taken seriously. This needs to be rectified.
Sinn Féin Councillor Charlene O Hara; Jennifer McCann MLA; Gerry Adams MP and Councillor Fre McCann MLA who attended Thursday mornings City Hall rally.