1. ITV Report

High-profile figures call for 'urgent action' on suicide

A number of well-known local personalities signed the letter. Credit: UTV

A number of high-profile figures from Northern Ireland have signed an open letter calling for action on suicide prevention.

Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody and boxer Carl Frampton are among the well-known names who have backed the letter.

It was printed in the Belfast Telegraph and Irish News newspapers on Tuesday.

The letter calls on Health Minister Robin Swann to double the funding available for counselling, and ensure no-one waits over 28 days for a counselling appointment.

It reads: “The current suicide reduction target of 10% over five years, equating to roughly six deaths a year being prevented, is wholly inadequate.

“Similarly, the funding allocation of £10.35m - a miniscule 0.2% of the overall health budget - is a fraction of what’s required.

“Access to services is piece-meal and waiting times for counselling vary greatly across trusts, with people being forced to wait several months for an initial appointment.

“We are therefore asking you as the health minister to declare a public health emergency.”

The idea for the letter came from west Belfast boxer Michael Conlan, following a number of suicides in the city.

It outlines how more people have died by suicide here since the signing of the 1998 Agreement than died as a direct result of the conflict.

“Behind the statistic of 307 deaths by suicide in 2018 are individuals who were much loved and continue to be mourned by loved ones,” it says.

Boxer Carl Frampton was among those who put their name beside the letter. Credit: UTV

Carl Frampton said north and west Belfast have been particularly badly affected of late.

“I know it happens all over the country, but north and west Belfast are having a bit of an epidemic really and it’s sad,” he told UTV.

“It’s strange as well, why is it happening?

“Obviously questions need answered, but I think that when I was asked to sign the petition to help raise awareness, I like a lot of other people in my position should be raising awareness for it and doing their best and I like to do that , and hopefully things can change.”

In a statement last week, Robin Swann said mental health, substance misuse and suicide are some of the “key priorities” for his department.

“These issues have massive impact on individuals, families and communities right across Northern Ireland,” he said.

“We need to work hard to ensure that we address inequalities in health and support and empower our communities to address these issues.

“To do this we need to work together collectively across government departments, across the community and voluntary sector, with service users and those affected by these issues.”

Mr Swann added that he is planning to visit north Belfast in the near future “to see first-hand the impact this is having on families and communities”.

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