As suicide crisis mounts, we reveal the NHS has NO suicide prevention strategy

BY ANDREA MCKERNON - Andersontown News - November 29, 2004

Campaigners battling the suicide crisis in North and West Belfast have blasted the department of health over its “startling” failure to put in place a suicide prevention strategy.
The lack of a clear strategy has been described as “beyond belief” by Sinn Féin who met with British health minister Angela Smith to discuss how to handle the crisis, and are still waiting for officials to get back.
The North of Ireland lags behind the Republic, Scotland, Wales and England whose health authorities have confirmed they all have specific strategies in place to help stop lives lost to suicide.Yesterday the department of health admitted there was no strategy in place, despite mammoth efforts from the community on the ground to help people at risk of suicide.
“The department has published a mental health promotion strategy which includes a section on suicide prevention. The department is currently considering what further action is required,” said a spokeswoman.
But with the current level of deaths at a staggering 18 since last Christmas in North and West Belfast, there is increasing anger among community groups on the ground over the lack of movement from the department.
Over two years ago Sinn Féin health minister Bairbre de Brun announced a new strategy into suicide prevention.
But campaigners say it had lay gathering dust since then with no movement.
In a further shocking revelation it has been revealed by the parent of one teenager who took his own life that in the five weeks since campaigners met the minister, six people have died as a result of suicide.
Phil McTaggart said the department was “playing with people’s lives ” and called for the immediate setting up of a strategy.
But Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly called for the urgent establishment of a “regional suicide strategy targeted to address the high numbers of suicides occurring in the North of Ireland”.
“To date no such strategy exists, a failure which Sinn Féin say is unacceptable,” he said.
“Suicide is now the biggest killer of young people in the North of Ireland and to not deliver a strategy in the immediate future is unacceptable.”
The North Belfast MLA said that following a meeting held between Angela Smith, the department of health and Sinn Fein, Gerry Adams received a commitment that the department would return with a date to start round table talks on the subject of suicide prevention.
The initiative, he said would involve officials from the department engaging with community, voluntary, statutory and political representatives.
“However the absence of a strategy to date is startling,” he said, “given the numbers of suicides that the north of Ireland is currently witnessing, a phenomenon which is by no means a recent occurrence, the lack of a targeted government strategy is beyond belief.
“To stall on this issue would only fail countless individuals
and families who need support and somebody to turn to,” said Gerry Kelly.

Journalist:: Andrea McKernon