Northern Ireland news

Links between suicide and paramilitary attacks 'needs addressed'

Fr Martin Magill Parish Priest of St John's.

A WEST Belfast priest has said the link between people living under threat from paramilitary groups and high levels of suicide, among already vulnerable groups, must be addressed.

Fr Martin Magill is part of the 'Stop Attacks' campaign group, calling for an end to paramilitary style shootings and assaults.

Recent statistics show that from February 1 2019 until January 31 2020, there were 19 casualties of paramilitary style shootings, compared to 13 in the previous year.

There were also 63 casualties of assaults, compared to 53 in the previous 12 months.

The majority of these occurred in Antrim and Newtownabbey and Belfast. Five were young people under the age of 18.

Focus on mental health

Fr Magill, parish priest of St John's in west Belfast, said he has "no doubt whatsoever" that there is a link between young people living under fear of attack and suicide rates in areas where paramilitaries still hold sway.

"I was talking to a man recently who was attacked last year and that has had a huge impact on his mental health, anxiety, fear, not knowing if he was safe to go outside," he said.

MORE than £80m has been spent on suicide prevention in Northern Ireland since 2006 yet rates remain the highest in the UK. An expert whose work informs new ways of tackling the crisis is keen to dispel myths around the issue and raise awareness about how society can help those most at risk.

"The other thing I would say is that there is often delayed trauma, someone from a previous parish was doing well, got a good job and then the wheels came off - and this was years after he had been shot.

"It can be like a wall falling on someone and this was 15-years after he was beaten and shot."

Fr Magill said the trauma caused by ongoing high numbers of paramilitary style assaults and shootings also has an impact on the mental health of the families of victims.

"Particularly the mothers of those targeted often suffer from mental health problems," he said.

"We know of the links between drugs and suicide and we often hear of people either under threat or who have been attacked in the past self medicating as a result of the trauma.

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"I'd go as far as to say families have broken up over this. In pretty much all the cases you will have people who have vulnerabilities and this exacerbates the problem."

Only three per cent of of paramilitary style attacks end in a conviction. One of the few studies carried out into the link between those under threat for alleged anti-social criminality and suicide, found that just over one third of participants had experienced long periods of depression and had suicidal thoughts in response to being threatened, while 22 per cent admitted having attempted suicide.

"Some of the victims organisations need give serious consideration to the support they can give," said Fr Magill.

"There is a role there for victims' organisations. There is also a stigma attached to these particular type of victims.

"We as a society have been tolerating this for around 50 years and it certainly doesn't solve anything."

Fr Magill said in 30 years as a priest the rise in suicides he has personally had to officiate has been gradual - "in my first year or two there would not have been any".

"I would certainly now have a number every year who have died by suicide, in other parishes that would be higher.

"The fact that we are talking about it is a good thing, there is so much emphasis on talking and seeking help and that is a positive step," he added.

Helplines

Lifeline is a Northern Ireland crisis response helpline service for people experiencing distress or despair. People living in Northern Ireland can call Lifeline on 0808 808 8000. Deaf and hard-of-hearing textphone users can call Lifeline on 18001 0808 808 8000.

The charity Pips delivers suicide prevention and bereavement support services, counselling and therapies throughout Northern Ireland. It can be reached on 028 9080 5850 or 0800 088 6042.

Samaritans provides a listening service if you need to talk about what you're going through. The number is 116 123.

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