30/03/2006

Pilot schemes to aid suicide prevention

A number of pilot measures have been implemented as part of a suicide prevention strategy unveiled by the government today.

Health Minister Shaun Woodward announced pilots for both a helpline and "buddying & mentoring" scheme as part of the strategy.

A common factor, which has emerged in his discussions with bereaved families, is the loneliness and isolation people suffer, leading to suicide.

Mr Woodward said: "There are multiple factors in the background to the suicides of many people. From problems at school, at home, at work to difficult relationships with partners, friends and sometimes families. Rarely is there a single cause.

"However, in the many stories I have been told I have been struck by one common factor in the history of those who went on to take their lives. Loneliness and isolation. The need for someone to talk to at a time of great despair.

"Many of these may well have seen a health professional. Some might have been on waiting lists to see a psychiatrist or other health professional. But in their waiting they were so lonely and so isolated. Who knows if it would certainly have made a difference at a critical moment of despair? But we must see whether a professionally run service providing that listening voice could help."

The Eastern Health and Social Services Board will conduct a pilot for a programme to be run in conjunction with experts from both the Samaritans and the NSPCC in North and West Belfast.

Ian Elliott, Divisional Director of NSPCC in Northern Ireland said: "It is vital that vulnerable children and young people on the verge of suicide get prompt access to the help they so desperately need. The NSPCC / ChildLine would be very willing to contribute its experience and expertise built up over many years in running helplines to targeted, vulnerable groups in our communities. We look forward to playing our part in supporting this important initiative."

Mr Woodward said: "I would like to see Northern Ireland develop some very local projects, based on local need. We will therefore introduce pilot schemes to be developed and expanded if they are effective.

"The Samaritans have invaluable experience in talking to very desperate people. People come to Samaritans because they know that they can speak to them in confidence, without being judged, and are therefore able to explore the difficult feelings which we rarely feel comfortable to share."

Samaritans Chief Executive David King said: "Samaritans exists to provide non-judgemental, confidential emotional support to those in distress and despair, including those considering suicide. It is our aim to ensure that whenever and wherever someone needs that support we can provide it 24 hours a day, seven days a week and our eight community based branches across Northern Ireland are committed to making this a reality. Samaritans played a full part in the development of this strategy and it sets a challenge to statutory and voluntary agencies to work together and we are keen to engage in this work."

Mr Woodward also announced a "buddying & mentoring" scheme, targeting those who self harm, to be initially established in the Western Health and Social Services Board area.

The Minister cautioned against expecting "instant results," but said it would be "important to see whether these pilot projects may show a way ahead in helping deal with a part of the problem."

Figures released earlier today from the General Register's Office revealed a 50% increase in suicides with 213 people taking their lives in 2005.

(SP/KMcA)

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