Suicide remains an issue right across Northern Ireland, with rural Northern Ireland seeing 79 deaths by suicide in 2015 according to NISRA; up from 70 the previous year. To put this in context, every 4.6 days someone in rural Northern Ireland died by suicide in 2015, while someone in Northern Ireland as a whole died by suicide every 1.1 days. While statistics show a concerning rise in the number of suicides in Belfast Urban Metropolitan Area in 2015- 134 according to NISRA- up from 87 in 2014- and in urban areas outside Belfast, it is clear that suicide is an issue affecting people from all areas.
In response to this, the Department of Health has published a draft strategy to replace the expiring Protect Life strategy, which has been operational since 2006, and refreshed in 2012. The new strategy, Protect Life 2, aims to reduce the rate of suicide in Northern Ireland, and in particular to reduce inequalities by addressing high suicide rates in most deprived areas through tackling repeat self-harm, helping those bereaved by suicide and improving initial care to those displaying suicidal tendencies.
Rural Support’s response calls for the inclusion of those under severe financial pressure and stress as an at-risk group, points to the specific needs of rural communities, noting that the trend in rural areas does not always follow the trend for Northern Ireland as a whole, asks for the needs of lone-workers to be considered, raises the need for enhanced early intervention schemes in rural areas and calls upon DAERA to act in their role as “rural champion” to ensure joined-up government work to benefit rural dwellers. The response also raises the issue of stigma surrounding mental health in rural areas, with one-in-six farmers unable to talk about their mental health to anyone.
Commenting on the consultation, Rural Support researcher David McConaghy said “Protect Life 2 will be an extremely important document, so it’s imperative that we get the needs of rural dwellers and farmers into it from the very beginning. We’ve noted that the evidence suggests a different dynamic between suicide in rural areas and those in urban, so we want to make sure that everyone in the province has suitable services provided to them. At present, farmers are under unprecedented pressure with regard to finance and debt and these issues must be considered, understood and acted upon. The rural suicide rate fluctuates greatly so we need to ensure that these communities have resilience measures put in place so they can cope with future crises.”
To speak to someone in confidence contact Rural Support’s helpline on 0845 606 7 607. The helpline is available from 8am to 11pm seven days a week (voicemail and support options available at all other times).