Brown secures Assembly debate over recent suicides
A LOCAL MLA has raised the issued over the number of recent deaths as a result of suicide in the South Antrim area in the Assembly.
Pam Brown secured an Assembly debate last Tuesday to raise the issue of mental health and the provision of services in the South Antrim area.
“In bringing the topic before the Assembly, I hope to continue to raise awareness of the tragedy of suicide,” Ms Brown said.
She added that while the debate focused on concerns within the South Antrim constituency, thoughts were also with all those communities that have suffered loss from suicide.
She referred to the recent public meeting organised by the group Antrim Together, formed in the wake of a number of recent suicides.
“I pay tribute to that group, not only for organising the meeting and highlighting such an important issue in the public domain but for its determination to help others who are suffering with mental health issues,” Ms Brown said.
She added: “The meeting occurred in the aftermath of the loss to suicide of four young people in my constituency since October.
“At that meeting, I was struck by a number of things, not least the real benefit to our communities when ordinary people decide to take action and work together across all divides for the greater good.”
Ms Brown said she was struck by the “sheer number of groups” — statutory agencies and voluntary and charitable organisations — that were there on the day to talk about their work and highlight their services in the field of mental health.
“Many of those present were not aware of the existence of other groups in their area or of the extent of resources that are available and in place,” Ms Brown said.
She added: “I, therefore, respectfully observe that one of the key difficulties that we face is highlighting those services, ensuring that they can operate in a joined-up way, avoid duplication and develop common themes and strategies in a cohesive framework.
“I urge the Minister and his officials to consider how his Department can work with groups such as Antrim Together to explore how best to harness the work that is being done.”
Ms Brown said that while the internet is a useful aid in researching help for those affected by suicide, there are also sites which promote suicide.
She also referred to her party colleague, William McCrea MP who has sponsored a private Member’s Bill in the House of Commons that is aimed at the establishment of an office for the prevention of suicide and self-harm.
The body would aim to work with internet providers and others to reduce access to information on the internet and through other sources on methods of suicide and to develop a system of alerts and blocks for internet searches that relate to suicide and for connected purposes.
“This is a Bill that I would support, and I encourage the House and the Minister to do likewise,” Ms Brown added.
She went on to add that the Antrim Together meeting had highlighted the range of ordinary people who are affected by mental health issues, and, sadly, the stigma that still surrounds it.
“It strikes me that if we were all honest, most of us would admit to having struggled with our mental health at some point, be it depression, anxiety, prolonged stress, eating disorders or whatever,” Ms Brown said.
She added: “In my case, it was postnatal depression. I still recall the absolute fear that I felt at not being able to cope. It was never diagnosed, I asked for no help and I suffered in silence.”
Ms Brown then called on the Health Minister to outline the work that his Department is undertaking in South Antrim.
During the debate, Ms Brown’s fellow South Antrim MLAs Mitchel McLaughlin, Danny Kinahan, Paul Girvan and Trevor Clarke thanked her for bringing the debate to the Assembly.
Mr McLaughlin commented that in these modern times, particularly when there is economic decline on a global scale, it is quite evident that many societies will be under stress.
He added: “Building up awareness, understanding and education, and removing any hint of stigma for people who have the courage to come forward and say, “I need support. I need help,” is a way in which we can address resources in a more intelligent way, without the human cost.
Mr Kinahan said he was in “total agreement” with Ms Brown’s comments, pointing out that Northern Ireland has greater mental health needs than the rest of the UK.
“Some 24% of men and 17% of women here have mental health problems, which is 20% higher than the rates in Scotland or Wales,” Mr Kinahan said.
Mr Clarke commented that “there has to be a coming together to make the information easier to find”.
He added that he had suffered from a mental health problem 25 years ago.
“I am grateful for the good grace of my parents in signposting me to the health service,” he said.
He added: “I sought and got help, and I am thankful for the help that I received at that time. The help is there for others, and I encourage them, if they feel in a low place, to seek the help to get them back on to the right path.”
Following the debate, Health Minister Edwin Poots outlined that his Department has spent around £32 million over the past six years on suicide prevention.
“That investment supports a range of evidence-based interventions, which include counselling, bereavement support, the Lifeline service, awareness raising, the promotion of help seeking, and next-day mental health appointments for people presenting at A&E in distress,” Mr Poots said.
Mr Poots said that while South Antrim is not one of the areas with the highest rates of suicide, suicides have, nonetheless, increased in South Antrim.
He added: “We need to be of the view that one suicide is one suicide too many. I understand that there have been nine suspected deaths by suicide in the South Antrim area since April 2012.”
Mr Poots revealed that in the wake of recent deaths, the northern area Protect Life co-ordination committee met to consider the next steps.
“It was agreed to partially activate the northern area community response plan for intervening in suspected emerging suicide clusters, although I should say that, at this stage, there is no evidence of a suicide cluster in South Antrim. That has not been recognised at this point,” he added.
Mr Poots said that the reason for activating the plan was to address the local community’s perception that nothing was happening in response to the deaths.
“The initial focus of the response was to co-ordinate a number of local events being organised by local groups and improve communication in the services currently available to support those in the Antrim area,” Mr Poots said.
He added: “I believe that the young people who initially raised the issue have also set up a Facebook page called Antrim Together to provide information and signposting for others in the area. That is an excellent idea.
“Antrim Together is an example of how the internet can be used for positive purposes.”
Mr Poots added that the Public Health Agency will contact the founders of Antrim Together to give them support in their endeavours.
“One of the agreed actions is that the Northern Trust, the PHA, Lifeline and Aware Defeat Depression will compile an information sheet for distribution to local public representatives, media and community organisations,” Mr Poots said.
Mr Poots added: “Through that work, we in Northern Ireland can turn a corner and go from having a very high suicide rate to having one of the lowest in the world, making us a leading place that other parts of the world will look to.”
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Weather for Antrim
Tuesday 21 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 15 C
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