Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council has backed a motion calling on the Secretary of State to take action to ensure the immediate publication and implementation of the Protect Life 2 suicide prevention strategy by the Department of Health.
The motion, passed at the local authority’s meeting earlier this evening, was proposed by UUP Councillor Nicholas Trimble and seconded by his party colleague, Councillor Tim Mitchell.
It notes that Northern Ireland currently has the highest suicide rate in the UK and expresses concern that the ongoing political impasse at Stormont has meant that Protect Life 2 – the new strategy and action plan aimed at reducing suicide rates – has still not been published due to the absence of a local minister.
It goes on to suggest that the council writes to the Secretary of State to “emphasise to her that the current situation is unacceptable and to urge her to intervene to secure the immediate publication and implementation of the strategy.”
Welcoming the council’s unanimous backing for the motion, Cllr Trimble commented: “Suicide in Northern Ireland is one of the most important issues currently facing society. Our rates of suicide are almost double that of the UK national average and we have some of the worst rates in Europe.
“The Department of Health has completed its ‘Protect Life 2’ strategy which aims to not only reduce suicide rates, but to also ensure appropriate support for postvention bereavement care services. The report is currently sitting waiting for publication, however it is incredible to discover that they are refusing to publish it due to no minister being in place.
“This is just another example of people being tangibly let down by the refusal to form an Executive at Stormont. This is an apolitical issue which affects so many of us, either directly or indirectly and the failure to address this is inexcusable.
“I was encouraged that positive contributions were made by every political party to the debate in the council chamber. I was deeply touched by those members who shared personal stories of their own experiences and particularly want to thank DUP Councillor Alan Givan for his heartfelt contribution to the debate. I am delighted that this has now been reinforced as a priority for the council.”
Speaking in support of the motion, Cllr Mitchell said: “This is an issue very close to my heart. Around 80% of deaths from suicide in Northern Ireland are men, which highlights to me that we still have a culture problem when it comes to addressing and discussing mental health. People should be encouraged that it is wisdom, not weakness to be able to say ‘I’m not OK’.
“I am delighted to see local initiatives such as STARS being formed to help tackle this perception problem and to encourage young men to speak out, however across Northern Ireland there are now almost six deaths to suicide each week. We need action from the top of the Department of Health to tackle this on a national level.”
The UUP’s spokesperson for mental health, Robbie Butler MLA, welcomed the council’s stance, saying: “I am delighted to see such a proactive motion from Lisburn and Castlereagh Council. In the absence of any kind of direction from Stormont, I believe councils should be stepping up to assist wherever they can.
“I work very closely with a lot of mental health and suicide prevention charities and what they manage to accomplish on the little resources they have is phenomenal.
“Mental Health and suicide prevention has been a key priority for the Ulster Unionist Party for a number of years now, indeed during the previous mandate we repeatedly lobbied the Health Minister for the appointment of an independent Mental Health Champion. I have my party colleagues in other councils across Northern Ireland to propose similar motions as mental ill-health does not discriminate on who or where you are.
“The absence of a functioning Executive will no doubt exacerbate the crisis which we are already trying to cope with. I have repeatedly called on all the major political parties to treat suicide prevention and mental health as their key priority.”
• People in Northern Ireland experiencing distress or despair can call Lifeline on 0808 808 8000.