A long-term strategy for reducing suicides and the incidence of self-harm has been launched in Northern Ireland with action delivered across a range of Government departments, agencies, and sectors.

The ‘Protect Life 2’ Suicide Prevention Strategy stresses the importance of services, communities, families and society working together to help prevent suicides over the next five years.

Richard Pengelly, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health, said: “Suicide is preventable and not inevitable, yet almost every day in Northern Ireland a person takes their own life. Whilst suicide rates here have remained relatively stable over the last decade the level is without a doubt unacceptably high. How we address this is a challenge for all in government and society. I am pleased that permanent secretaries across the NICS have indicated their support for this strategy. 

“The challenge for ‘Protect Life 2’ will be to substantially reduce suicide rates by 10% by 2024, in line with WHO advice.  One of the aims is to deliver suicide prevention services and support, with a particular focus on deprived areas where self-harm rates are highest and suicide rates are over 3.5 times higher than those in the least deprived areas.”

Currently £8.7m is invested on suicide prevention each year. An additional £1.35m has been provided through the transformation programme this financial year.

One person dies every 40 seconds from suicide

The report comes on World Suicide Prevention day and follows an announcement from the World Health Organization that despite progress in suicide prevention activities in some countries, much more is needed.

The number of countries with national suicide prevention strategies has increased in the five years since the publication of WHO’s first global report on suicide, but the total number of countries with strategies, at just 38, is still far too few and governments need to commit to establishing them.

“Despite progress, one person still dies every 40 seconds from suicide,” said WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Every death is a tragedy for family, friends and colleagues. Yet suicides are preventable. We call on all countries to incorporate proven suicide prevention strategies into national health and education programmes in a sustainable way.”

Suicide rates are highest in high-income countries and are the second leading cause of death among young people. In Northern Ireland, three times as many people die by suicide each year than are killed in road traffic collisions.

Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride said: “We have already seen the positive difference that some of the new initiatives from the strategy are making to people’s lives. The Multi Agency Triage Team is working in partnership with the Health and Social Care sector, PSNI and the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service to provide on the spot mental health support to people who are in distress. This programme has recently been expanded and is now available in the Belfast and South Eastern HSC Trust Areas. 

“In addition, a ‘Towards Zero Suicide’ initiative has recently been introduced in all HSC Trusts and has a focus on patient safety in adult mental health. Similar initiatives in other parts of the world have seen significant decreases in suicide rates.

“The toll suicide takes is not just measured in lives lost and anguish for families and communities.  There is also an estimated wider societal cost of £1.55m for each life lost.  Right across government we must continue to prioritise investment in prevention.”

Protect Life 2 contains a range of new and ongoing actions designed to reduce the suicide rate including greater focus on those bereaved by suicide, more support for those who care for others and enhanced working across Departments. Full implementation of the strategy will require additional funding in future years.