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.






4 comments:

Timothy Dougherty said...

Thanks again for out some important facts and information,that is often overlooked in this time of world financial crisis. Was just reading this day what was said by The director of finance in the Department of Health, Sean Donaghy, said he did not want "to frighten the public".The Department of Health is faced with making cuts of up to 17%.People should be frightened, your so right "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." Mr Donaghy also said that if the Northern Ireland health budget is not ring fenced by the Executive, there would be no increase in funding for four consecutive years. To to mark World Suicide Prevention Day , this year as a even more tragic event.With a total of 260 people in Northern Ireland whom have died by suicide in 2009, and with a on average of two people in Ireland taking their lives each day. We must take a real view of this world problem if we are to make real progress in combating the problem of suicide.

Linda said...

Hard topic for me since I have had a few people that were close to me take their lives. It's hard for us who are left behind because we wonder if some little thing that we could have done differently could have changed their mind. Not sure how a government could have changed it either, though. I agree it is very important not make cuts in mental health issues.

Micheal said...

Where can you find unconditional love when you're suffering with mental illness and you're trapped in a life of misery and unhappiness?

Inside of yourself you can find it. Say I love you and pat yourself on the head before you go off to sleep, if you can sleep.

You're very good at your job Gerry. You should be paid a lot more and take your seat at Westminster too, if a realistic alternative oath could be agreed on.

Linda said...

Hard topic for me since I have had a few people that were close to me take their lives. It's hard for us who are left behind because we wonder if some little thing that we could have done differently could have changed their mind. Not sure how a government could have changed it either, though. I agree it is very important to maximize current resources and not make cuts that may cause more harm.

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