Northern Ireland news

'Service of hope' held in Belfast to raise mental health awareness

The vigil was held to raise awareness of mental health issues. Picture by Declan Roughan

A CANDLELIT vigil and a "service of hope" were held in north Belfast last night in a bid to raise awareness of mental health issues.

The events follow increased concerns about mental health and suicide in Northern Ireland following several recent tragic deaths.

Community members arranged to gather outside the Flax Centre at Ardoyne Avenue for the vigil before walking to the nearby Holy Cross Church for the service.

The events were organised to raise awareness of help which is available for those struggling with mental health issues.

It was also hoped the events allow people to "promote positive mental health while remembering their loved ones".

Suicide rates for men and women in the north are considerably higher than in both Britain and the Republic.

Police in Northern Ireland have said they received 1,425 calls in December related to mental health.

SDLP councillor Paul McCusker said the community was "coming together to show support but also to raise awareness and hope".

Kevin McAreavey, principal of Holy Cross Boys' Primary School, said a "dark cloud" has formed over the Ardoyne community.

"It sort of made us reflect on how many deaths by suicide or drugs that we've had since I came to Holy Cross Boys' as a teacher 23 years ago, and the startling figure was 27," he told BBC's Newsline programme.

"Enough is enough. We need the right help and the right support, perhaps even if we could get a junior minister for mental health."

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