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Samaritans set out Policy Asks for Assembly Elections
An online Hustings event on 7 April will see Samaritans asking Northern Ireland’s politicians, as the Assembly Elections approach, to commit to placing key suicide prevention priorities at the top of their policy agendas and work together to save lives.
Partnering with Start360, the leading Suicide Prevention Charity will host the eight political parties and leading mental health professionals in an event which aims to ensure that suicide prevention is kept high on the political agenda for the next Assembly mandate.
Suicide took the lives of 209 people across Northern Ireland in 2019, devastating family, friends and communities. The years since have been especially challenging, as the pandemic and lockdowns increased stress and isolation. During COVID, the emotional support provided by Samaritans has been more essential than ever.
Today suicide is a major public health concern for Northern Ireland. Samaritans believe it is preventable, not inevitable.
“It is our vision that fewer people die by suicide,” says Ellen Finlay, Policy & Development lead For Samaritans in Northern Ireland.
“Realising this vision is everyone’s business. That is why we’re calling on politicians to unite to help us save lives, as set out in our Policy Asks. Suicide is a cross-party, interfaith responsibility that touches us all.”
In the run-up to the Assembly Elections, Samaritans are asking politicians to drive positive change on three key priorities: Prevention, Early Intervention and Reduction.
Priority 1. Prevention
Media coverage and social media are strong influencers of human behaviour. Sensitively handled, media can be an important ally in suicide prevention. Informed reporting can raise awareness and educate the public on the signs to look out for.
However there is strong research evidence that some forms of reporting lead to increases in suicide rates. Samaritans’ Media Guidelines aim to ensure media coverage helps prevent suicide. “Our guidelines are best practice and provide advice and training to support informed, safe communication,” explains Ellen.
“It is vital that these guidelines become the standard, so that all in public-facing roles and commenting on suicide adopt best practice.”
To achieve this goal, Samaritans are asking for sufficient funding to enable the on-going training and roll-out of their media and memorial guidelines to be delivered as widely as possible.
Priority 2. Early Intervention
Primary care is the most common service used prior to suicide. Research revealed that 82% of those who die by suicide in Northern Ireland attended their GP practice during the year before, with 39% attending 30 days before. 39% visited Accident and Emergency, one third saw a psychiatrist, and 28% had been in contact with community mental health services.
70% had been prescribed mental health medications. All these touchpoints presented opportunities for healthcare staff to ask about suicidal thoughts.
Samaritans want all medical and care staff to be trained in suicide prevention, so they can spot the signs of mental ill health and potential suicidal feelings.
Priority 3. Reduction
While the internet can be a valuable space for those experiencing self-harm and suicidal feelings to speak openly and access support from others with similar thoughts, often it is one of the factors involved in suicide.
Ellen continued: “Samaritans’ study revealed that more than a quarter of patients who had self-harmed with high suicidal intent had used the internet in connection with self-harm.”
At least 1 in 10 young people reported self-harm by age 16, with females three times more likely, the Northern Ireland Lifestyle and Coping Strategy found. Chief factors were bullying, exposure to self-harm, abuse and sexual orientation concerns.
Online, the prominence of ‘suicide challenges’ has grown. Yet a lack of legislation around assisting self-harm remains. Samaritans are urgently demanding that a new offence be created: ‘Encouraging or assisting serious self-harm with clearly malicious intent’.
“These are our policy asks of all politicians in the elections this May. We’re confident that with a focused collaborative effort, true progress can be achieved,” Ellen affirms.
Alan Heron, Regional Director for Samaritans in Northern Ireland commented: “Samaritans believe every politician can play an important role in preventing suicide, by influencing party policy, pushing for changes in their constituency and keeping the issue high on the Assembly agenda”.
Órlaithí Flynn, Sinn Fein Candidate for West Belfast agrees: “Suicide remains a major issue, impacting families and communities across the island. Securing funding for the suicide prevention strategy and rolling out suicide prevention training will all play a vital role in reducing suicides and supporting families and communities.”
Robbie Bulter, Ulster Unionist Party Candidate for Lagan Valley commented: “These last two years have been difficult for us all and underline the importance of making meaningful progress to save lives and to do more for everyone in need of support. We must do everything in our power to ensure that the resources and support required for suicide prevention are met or sadly more lives will be lost.”
In 2020, Samaritans Northern Ireland answered 121,444 calls and spent 32,858 hours providing emotional support to those who reached out.
One call is answered every three minutes. The top five concerns: coronavirus, isolation and loneliness, family, mental health or illness, and relationship problems
For information on our work and ways to show support, visit www.samaritans.org
For further information and interview requests please contact: Anita Cooley Red Revolution, 07540929885 [email protected]
Notes to Editor
Anyone can contact Samaritans for free any time from any phone on 116 123, even a mobile without credit, and the number won’t show up on your phone bill. Or email [email protected] or go to www.samaritans.org to find details of your nearest branch where you can talk to one of our trained volunteers face to face.
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Leavey, G., Rosato, M., Galway, K., Hughes, L., Mallon, S., & Rondon, J (2016). Patterns and predictors of help-seeking contacts with health services and general practitioner detection of suicidality prior to suicide. A short analysis of suicides occurring over a two-year period. BMC Psychiatry, 16(1), 120.
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