Suicide strategy should have zero tolerance drive

A new campaign group is lobbying government to have a different approach in its suicide stategy, calling for a 'zero tolerance' focus
Seanin Graham

A campaign that aims to radically reduce suicide levels in Northern Ireland is lobbying for a “zero tolerance” approach to the crisis - in the same way government tackles road deaths.

The Co Down based group, half of which is made up of individuals bereaved through suicide, argue that health officials should be pro-active in their approach in putting an end to such deaths – as opposed to focussing on the promotion of mental health.

Northern Ireland has the highest suicide rate in the UK and despite the launch of a multi-million pound ‘Protect Life’ strategy almost a decade ago, the number of deaths began to rise again in 2013 – with an average of 300 people taking their own lives each year.

Campaigners launched their 'Suicide Down to Zero' project in Downpatrick in April last year, and have already met with officials from the Public Health Agency - the government body responsible for rolling out the north's existing suicide strategy.

Based on a successful American model – the Henry Ford health system - the zero tolerance approach is also being piloted by the Mersy Care NHS Trust in north west England where they hope to reduce suicides by 25 per cent over four years to a point where they have eliminated suicide altogether in their mental health system.

The Co Down group believe that the concept should not just be applied to mental health facilities but to all citizens.

Private correspondence seen by The Irish News reveals former Health minister Simon Hamilton was to "monitor the learning" from the English projects and "consider" how "any of the successful features can be adopted into the overall approach" to suicide prevention in the north.

But the former DUP minister wrote of his concerns about "striking the balance" and said that a "direct focus" on suicide in public information campaigns may lead to a "normalisation" of the issue.

However, the Downpatrick group believe that the theory of normalising suicide through more awareness raising is untrue – and have called for more specialist training across the health service.

Group member Mary McManus, whose 20-year-old son Dean took his own life two years ago after battling depression, said she believes a direct approach, similar to that used to promote government road safety campaigns, should be used.

"The current road safety campaign is entitled 'Sharing the road to Zero' with the ambitious aim of eliminating road deaths. We believe that a similar shift of attitude from preventing road deaths to seeking to completely end deaths due to road traffic collisions should be applied to suicide.

"It could be argued that as a society we are continuing to tolerate an acceptable level of suicide deaths rather than adopting the zero attitude and approach.

"It is only through tackling the problem head-on that more can be done about it. When you see advertisements on TV about mental health, the word suicide isn't even mentioned - yet it is one of the biggest killers of young men in Northern Ireland, much more than car accidents.

"It could be argued that as a society we are continuing to tolerate an acceptable level of suicide deaths rather than adopting the zero attitude and approach."



-The Suicide Down to Zero group can be contacted on 07809441950 or 07852931845 or email

- The confidential service Lifeline on 0808 808 8000. The helpline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also access the Lifeline website at


- PIPS suicide support group can be contacted on 02890 805 850 or email


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