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Suicide prevention strategy needs to go ahead as a matter of urgency

WORLD Suicide Prevention Day is a means of raising awareness, generating discussion and hopefully leading to action about an issue that has spiralled to epidemic proportions in Northern Ireland.

The suicide rate in the north is around 300 deaths a year. As has been noted before, more people have taken their own lives since 1998 than were killed during the Troubles.

It means that virtually every day someone in Northern Ireland is dying by suicide, which is completely unacceptable.

Yet one of the main concerns raised by relatives trying to get help for someone at risk is the lack of immediate support available from the health service.

It is encouraging that high-profile figures, role models in areas such as sport or entertainment, are speaking out more about their personal battles with emotional issues, anxiety and depression.

These are issues so widespread that very few families would be left untouched in some way.

However, experiencing and identifying a mental health difficulty is one thing.  Finding the right help when it is most needed can be a challenge, particularly for families unsure where to turn. In positive terms, there are many support groups and organisations in Northern Ireland dedicated to helping people at risk. Their work is absolutely vital and they undoubtedly help to save lives and care for people through dark times.

But it is also recognised that more needs to be done, to provide early intervention, information, education and training.

In fact, measures have been drawn up to tackle the appallingly high level of suicides in the north, called the Protect Life 2 strategy.

Regrettably, as the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster heard last week, this strategy cannot go ahead because there is no minister in place to sign it off.

This is a clear example of the Stormont impasse having a negative impact on people’s lives.

Properly funded, effective and targeted action that could save lives should not be delayed any longer.

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