“This is the highest number of deaths ever recorded here in Northern Ireland,” writes Pat McGreevy. “The Health Minister Michelle O`Neill recently said that the suicide figures in Northern Ireland are ‘stable’ but perhaps that should be read as ‘consistently high’.
“Suicide needs to be treated more urgently. The target for suicide deaths here should be zero and everyone in society can contribute to the eradication of suicide.
“It has to be questioned why there is no public information campaign aimed at encouraging open and direct talk about suicide.
“Such a campaign would help shatter many of the myths that surround suicide. A particular myth is the widely held false belief that talking about suicide with someone in distress may “put the idea of suicide in their head”
Mr McGreevy, added: “The current approach seems to be:- raise awareness of mental health and illness, encourage help seeking and we may eventually get to a campaign aimed directly at suicide prevention. This approach seems to under-estimate the urgency of suicide. This “suicide must wait” approach may be costing us lives.
“Another issue is that we need to differentiate between mental illness and suicide. Mental illness doesn’t kill people but suicide does.
“Communities should adopt the ‘Suicide Safer Communities’ approach which provides a nine element framework to enable and better coordinate suicide prevention .
“We know that many people in suicidal crisis pass the point of seeking help. Many are unable to tell someone of their suicide thoughts or they may actively conceal their intentions. This is why programmes such as ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) and safeTALK (Suicide Alertness for Everyone) are so important.
“People trained in ASIST can better identify people at risk of suicide and provide suicide first aid. Those trained in safeTALK can identify those with thoughts of suicide and refer them to an ASIST trained caregiver or other experienced caregiver. We need to train more people in these programmes in a systematic and targeted way. Organisations including GP practices should have a small number of people trained in ASIST and the remainder trained in safeTALK.
“There has been a great improvement in the care provided to people bereaved by suicide here particularly over the last four years. These people are at increased risk of suicide and are readily identifiable. They need timely, active and on-going care and support.
“It seems that families who initially decline help should be more actively engaged with at a later stage. A consistent approach is required to ensure that all these families receive a follow up visit from the police and that visit could include a representative of the contracted suicide bereavement service provider.
“It is not clear that data is being collected centrally to identify all the children bereaved by suicide. Data collection may be hampered when there have been parental separations. Timely appropriate care for these children will reduce the “legacy” of suicide and contribute ,long term, to preventing suicide
“There is a need to more clearly identify those survivors of suicide attempts. Their care needs are different from those who have engaged in self-harm. People who have attempted suicide are at the apex of risk. New approaches that have proved successful elsewhere should be piloted here. These include the PISA/Suicide Safer Living model developed by Bergmans and colleagues in Toronto and the solution focused work of Heather Fiske.
“The draft Protect Life 2 provide an ideal opportunity to adopt the ambition of zero suicides across Northern Ireland .If senior policy makers insist in ‘more of the same’ approaches, then communities themselves can adopt the suicide down to zero ambition until it becomes widely accepted that the potential for zero suicides is achievable.”
(This article first appeared in The View in 2016.)