Local councillors fought back tears as they shared their experiences of suicide during a council discussion this week.
The emotional scenes occurred during a discussion on a motion proposed by DUP Councillor Cheryl Johnston that Mid and East Antrim Council should recognise the “very concerning level of deaths by suicide in Northern Ireland” and that reducing suicide be “treated as a priority” by council.
Carnlough Sinn Fein Cllr James McKeown said “more people have died from suicide on this island in the past 20 years than were killed during the Troubles and nobody knows what is going through their heads.”
“Those of us left behind spend the rest of our days with that question,” he continued.
Supporting the motion, Cllr McKeown praised the work of support groups such as Cruse Bereavement Care, the Samaritans, Lifeline and Lighthouse for their “tremendous work.”
Last week,the Times revealed that there were 24 suicides or attempted suicides in the Mid and East Antrim area in 2016, an increase of four on the previous year when there were 20 recorded deaths from suicide in Mid and East Antrim.
If this can help in Mid and East Antrim to prevent one suicide it’s worth it.Councillor Paul Reid
DUP Councillor Paul Reid, who is the minister of Larne and Kilwaughter Old Presbyterian Church, said he had provided pastoral care to families bereaved by suicide.
“It’s not a statistic, they are someone’s son, daughter, mother, father, brother or sister,” he stated.
“Suicide is something which sadly is all too rife in our society and across the Province.
“I have witnessed first-hand the pain of losing a loved one and the pain of not knowing the answers, of wanting to know why this happened to them.”
Welcoming Cllr Johnston’s motion, Cllr Reid added: “If this can help in Mid and East Antrim to prevent one suicide it’s worth it.”
Cllr Johnston’s motion also called for the council’s community plan address the underlying causes of suicide, and for the local authority’s Health and Well-being Strategy to integrate the Department of Health’s forthcoming ‘Protect Life 2’ strategy at a local level.
Addressing the chamber, Cllr Johnston called for mental health to go “up the political agenda” and for a multi-agency approach to tackle the issue of suicide in Mid and East Antrim.
“Every life lost represents someone’s partner, child, friend or colleague,” Cllr Johnston stated.
“This has a direct impact on the families, workplaces and the communities.
“This is not just a health matter; no one organisation can directly address all factors.
“It is essential that a multi-agency approach is created at a strategic and operational level that reaches out to every area in Mid and East Antrim working together to help prevent suicides, those in social crises or those that have lost a loved one though suicide.”
Cllr Johnston called for a “partnership approach” between agencies, the community and voluntary sector.
“I was shocked to hear that more people in Northern Ireland lose their life to suicide than in road traffic accidents,” she continued.
“We cannot stand back and let this happen.”
The elected representative called for the council to “push forward locally and regionally to get something done” in terms of structures, strategies and funding to deal with mental health.
Cllr Johnston commended the work of organisations such as Turning Point NI, PIPS, Lifeline and the Samaritans, as well as the council’s Here2Help app and Sunnylands and Woodburn Community Development Group, who received £10,000 to deliver mental health and first aid training.
Calling for a full examination of the services available in the borough, Cllr Johnston urged council to “establish a tailored approach to mental
health for the people of Mid and East Antrim.”
Her motion was seconded by DUP Cllr William McCaughey.
“Suicide is a scar on the community which we need to attempt to eradicate,” he said.
“Suicide is not a lover of social boundaries; all classes and ages from the youngest to the oldest and richest to poorest are affected.
“Society is working hard to eradicate stigma around mental illnesses but that stigma still exists, albeit to a lesser degree.
“In Northern Ireland we have spent less on mental health than any other region of the UK but our rate is higher than any other region of the UK.
“It’s no surprise we have the highest incidence.”
Alliance Cllr Robert Logan commended the free Here2Help app, which he said provides advice and contact details.
Summing up, Cllr Johnston expressed her appreciation for the “courage” of other councillors in sharing their experiences.
The motion passed with unanimous support.