Minding the deprivation gap in Northern Ireland

Julie Aiken, Relationship & Development Officer for Samaritans in Northern Ireland

More than three hundred suicides were registered in Northern Ireland during 2015 – to be precise, 318, the highest annual death toll since records began in 1970. Of the suicide deaths registered in 2015, 77 per cent (245) were male. Northern Ireland continues to have the highest suicide rate in the UK per head of population, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Finding out why is the key, and there is no definitive answer. As Dying From Inequality shows, experiencing disadvantage is a major risk factor for suicidal behaviour. In Northern Ireland, the rates of mental ill-health and suicide are significantly higher in economically-deprived areas with deaths by suicide in the most deprived areas three times higher than the most affluent areas.

So, there is no simple explanation for why someone ends their life and it is rarely due to one particular factor. Mental health problems are important influences, as well as alcohol and substance misuse, feeling desperate, helpless or without hope.

Unemployment is another potential factor contributing to suicide, particularly for younger people and men. Figures from the coroner’s database study showed that at least half of the deceased were known to be jobless at the time they died.

Samaritans has been providing emotional support to people in Northern Ireland for nearly 60 years through the province’s eight branches. Many people contact our volunteers about financial worries and unemployment as they struggle to cope. We have now made it easier for people who are experiencing disadvantage to contact us by making our number free to call. This makes it possible for people to talk to us without worrying about the bill they will receive afterwards.

We reach out to support high risk groups and communities, working in partnership with a range of organisations across Northern Ireland. The Dying from Inequality report shows that we need to continue with this but reach further in our collaborative work to ensure that fewer people die by suicide.

Suicide is an inequality issue and action is needed across a range of Government departments, state agencies, private employers and community supports. Suicide prevention needs to be a government priority in welfare, education, housing and employment policies. In the coming months Samaritans will be working to share the findings of Dying from Inequality across working groups and different sectors in Northern Ireland.