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Public consultation on suicide launched after 8% spike in 2021 in NI

A public consultation on services for those who have been bereaved by suicide in Northern Ireland is to take place following an 8% spike in the suicide rate in the North.

Statistics published at the end of November revealed that the number of suicides in Northern Ireland are at their highest rate since 2015. 2021 saw an 8.2 per cent increase in suicide deaths from the previous year, and one in three of those deaths were someone aged under 30.

The finalised figures from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra), which recorded deaths by suicide from 2015 to 2021, showed 237 people died by suicide in 2021 – marking a worrying increase of 18 from 219 suicide deaths registered in 2020.

The figures showed that in 2021, the last year of recorded statistics, 175 (74.3%) of suicide deaths were males, while 61 were females.

The newly announced consultation, which will run for 12 weeks, is set to help review current services offered to individuals who have been bereaved by suicide. Most importantly, it aims to “listen to the views of service users, families, local communities and organisations delivering services to ensure an appropriate service model”.

The public consultation will provide people in the North with an opportunity to have their say on the provision of services offered to those bereaved by suicide. Having opened on 16 January 2023, it will run until 9 April 2023. 

Those interested can participate in an engagement event either online or in person, or complete an online survey. In person-events will run from 1 February until 21 March in locations including Belfast, Omagh, Craigavon and Coleraine. A full list of in-person and zoom events can be found here.

Worryingly, figures show that the suicide rate for both males and females has been on the rise since 2019. The rate for males increased from 19.1 per 100,000 males in 2019 to 21.5 in 2021, while for females, the equivalent rate increased from 6.0 per 100,000 females in 2019 to 7.3 in 2021, according to the Nisra statistics.

For men, the highest number of suicide deaths were for those between the ages of 25 and 29, and 45 and 49 – while for women, suicide deaths were the highest between the ages of 20 and 24. In 2021, one in every three suicide deaths was someone aged under 30 years old. 

Northern Ireland has long been the focus of discussion regarding suicide prevention, with an age-standardised suicide rate which is higher than that in Scotland, England and Wales. The province last year recorded an age-standardised rate of 14.3 suicides per 100,000 population, compared to 14.0 suicides per 100,000 population in Scotland and 10.5 suicides per 100,000 in England and Wales. 

The Belfast Trust had the highest suicide rate at 17.9 deaths per 100,000 in 2021. This was followed by the Western Trust (16.0 deaths per 100,000). The Northern Trust had the lowest suicide rate in 2021 at 10.4 deaths per 100,000.

The 7-year-review of suicide deaths found that the most deprived areas experienced a suicide rate which was almost double that of the least deprived areas in 2020 (19.7 deaths per 100,000 in the poorest areas, compared to 10.8 deaths per 100,000 in better off areas).

Ireland has the 17th highest suicide rate in the whole of Europe, and the fouth highest for men aged 15-24 years old, according to the World Health Organisation (2012). The overall suicide rate for males is three times higher than that of females according to CSO data – an indication that men are less likely to feel they are able to ask for help.

The public consultation on bereavement services in the North comes as Irish suicide prevention charity Pieta issued a warning about young people taking their own lives. Pieta have urged people to watch out for warning signs, and to ensure those in anguish know that help can be found – as it warned a staggering 25% of its clients are now aged under 18.

Pieta, which has 20 locations in Ireland and offers free counselling to those who self-harm or are suffering from suicide ideation, urged anyone who is in need of help – or those who worry someone they know might be struggling – to “swap the small talk for big talk”.

It comes as the mental health charity launched its new ‘SIGNS of Suicide’ campaign, using social media influencers to try and maximise its message.

Last year, its helpline received 99,042 calls and texts, and delivered over 51,000 therapy hours, with 35% of its clients being children under 18. 

The charity said the huge provision of services offered last year shows it is more important than ever for people to be mindful of the ‘SIGNS  of suicide’ – warning signs which it says includes: Sleep Disturbance, Iolation, Giving Away Possessions, No Interest in Anything, and Speaking of No Future.

Speaking about the ‘SIGNS of Suicide’ campaign, Stephanie Manahan, Pieta CEO, said: “While mental health struggles aren’t confined to any one period of the year, we do know that January can be especially difficult for anyone experiencing a mental health crisis or suicidal ideation.

“That is why Pieta is keen to spread the word about the SIGNS of Suicide and to reiterate the message that it’s okay to not be okay. We encourage people all over Ireland to ‘swap the small talk for the big talk’ and look out for the ‘SIGNS of Suicide’ in family members and friends”.

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