Friday, September 10, 2010
World Suicide Prevention Day
Belfast city centre was shrouded in darkness as the silent procession of families and friends from West Belfast who lost loved ones through suicide, their faces illuminated by candles and torches, made its way to the City Hall.
The crowd seemed larger than last year. It was just after six when we reached Donegall Square. Ahead of us another procession from other parts of the city made its way out of Royal Avenue. It certainly was bigger.
Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. We were walking from darkness into light in an act of solidarity with all those bereaved through suicide and in an effort to raise awareness about suicide and self-harming.
In recent years suicide has taken a heavy toll across this island. Last year West and North Belfast recorded the highest numbers with 22 in the west of the City and 20 in the north. More people die each year in Ireland as a result of suicide than die in road accidents.
The human cost of this on families and communities is devastating. The reality is that all sections and all generations of our society are affected, from the very young to the very old, and in rural and urban areas. All of this was very obvious in the faces and demeanour of the people gathered at our City Hall ceremony which was led in song and poetry readings by Deborah Morrison and Jim Weir who were joined by relatives – mostly parents of victims of suicide who read poems and spoke of their loss. It would break your heart.
Self harming is also a huge issue in Irish society today. Thousands are admitted to hospitals every year as a result of self-harm which in many cases go unreported. A report in the south revealed that there were 11,700 cases of deliberate self-harm presented at Accident and Emergency departments in 2008, with the biggest increase there among men.
There has been significant work done and investment made into Suicide awareness and prevention in recent times. Most of it is a result of the hard work and dedication of bereaved families.
However as recent statistics and reports have shown the issue of suicide is as great today as it has ever been.
Prof Kevin Malone of the School of Medicine and Medical Science UCD and St. Vincent’s University Hospital gave evidence on suicide to the Dáil Joint Committee on Health and Children this week. He reported that a study he carried out into suicide in 23 countries concluded that suicide levels are significantly higher than the official statistics suggest.
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 budget in the north and in the south is devoted to mental health.
Mental Health remains the Cinderella of the health services. This needs to be rectified.
With threats of cutbacks in services dominating the political agenda this blog looks to the Minister of Health to give a clear commitment to ring fence the existing resources for the suicide awareness and prevention strategies and groups against any threat of cuts.
The Minister should also go further by publishing the ‘North-South Feasibility Study’ which was completed 18 months ago and recommends greater co-operation between the health services north and south.
Making best use of existing resources across the island at a time of financial crisis makes sense. As the economic recession continues to bite into peoples sense of self worth and well being their mental health will suffer. Instances of suicide could increase even more.
This morning the organisers of our Walk of Life released large Chinese Lanterns into the Belfast sky. In a ceremony replete with symbolism the lanterns bobbed their way slowly up over our heads and floated gently heavenwards as the dawn brightened over our city. Beside me people wept quietly.
Let’s not let these people down. This morning also marked the formal launch of the Families Voices Forum which will bring together all those working on this issue. They deserve our support.