Families bereaved by suicide disrupted the monthly board meeting of the Public Health Agency (PHA) to demand that a public health emergency is declared to tackle Northern Ireland’s suicide crisis.
A flash-mob of campaigners brought the meeting to a standstill singing ‘Alarm Bells’ -- their alternative version of the Christmas favourite, Jingle Bells -- as PHA board members discussed ‘Emergency Planning’, while completely ignoring the public health emergency which took 307 lives last year.
More people gathered outside the PHA headquarters to support #123GP’s call for the PHA to declare a mental-health emergency.
Northern Ireland’s suicide crisis has been grabbing international news headlines, including most recently in the New York Times.
Twenty-one years after the Good Friday Agreement, the north of Ireland has one of the highest suicide rates in the world.
The links between poverty, inequality and suicide have been well evidenced and are borne out by the fact that in deprived communities such as North and West Belfast the rate of suicide is 3.5 times higher than other areas.
In response to this, the Department of Health and health agencies have introduced a suicide prevention strategy -- Protect Life 2 -- with a shockingly low target of 10% reduction in deaths over 5 years.
Based on the yearly average rate of deaths by suicide in recent years this target would mean only 6 fewer deaths a year.