Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody has added his voice to calls for a mental health strategy for Northern Ireland, having gone through his own struggles with depression.

The musician was at Stormont on Friday as Ulster University launched a review into mental health services in Northern Ireland.

It points to figures showing that 120,000 people have been waiting for over a year for a first outpatient appointment – a stark statistic compared to England and Wales where the figure stands at 5,000.

Those behind the report say those who are suffering are being failed.

“The problem is almost – I would even say not almost, but it is an epidemic at the moment in Northern Ireland,” Gary Lightbody told UTV.

“I’ve had two friends that have died in the last 10 months by taking their own lives. More needs to be done for people who are struggling like this. We can’t keep losing people.”

If you’re sitting in isolation, I feel for you. I’ve been there.

Gary Lightbody, Snow Patrol

Having found his own solace in reaching for his guitar, the Snow Patrol star feels passionately about the power of the arts to have a positive impact on mental health.

“Take sport, music, art, drama out of kids’ lives and you’re basically removing a significant portion of the things that make life worth living,” he said, hitting out at year-on-year budget cuts for exactly that.

“If we don’t cherish these things now and reintroduce them to our schools, we’re going to have exponentially worse problems in 10, 20 years with mental health in this county.

“We can’t take that joyful stuff away and expect that nothing happens. Of course it will.

“It’ll make it worse.”

Gary says he felt it was important to speak out as another voice, showing others who are struggling that they are not alone.

“I think the more voices that we hear, the more we feel we’re not alone in it,” he added.

“That’s part of the problem – the isolation that you feel when you’re in the deepest parts of your depression, and maybe just hearing people talk about it is a sign that you’re not alone.”

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