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Gerry Adams takes part in 'Walk of Life'

10 September, 2008

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP MLA this morning joined with bereaved families and Suicide Awareness activists in taking part in a 'Walk of Life' in the grounds of Parliament Buildings to highlight the importance of Suicide Awareness and Support for bereaved families.

Today is International Suicide Prevention Day. This morning's event was entitled 'Walking out of the Darkness and into the Light'. The event was organised by the west Belfast Suicide Awareness and Support Group and attracted several hundred people.

Speaking after the event the west Belfast MP praised the organisers and commended all of those who took part. Mr. Adams said:

"Significant progress has been made in recent years in raising awareness about suicide. More resources than ever before are being channelled into voluntary and statutory organisations. But much more is needed to meet the challenge suicide presents for society.

"Mental health remains the Cinderella of the health services in Ireland. Much of the focus on suicide prevention would not have happened without the unwavering determination of the bereaved families to make progress. Their strength in the face of this awful hurt is remarkable. They have been to the fore in helping others. They deserve not only our respect and praise; they deserve practical assistance and public investment.

"The recent death of a young boy in Crumlin, other deaths in Dungannon and elsewhere, are all evidence of the scale of the problem.

"A report published several months ago by the Assembly Health Committee found that the number of suicides in the north has increased in recent years. It reported that currently an average of 195 people take their own lives each year and a further 4,500 people are admitted to hospital having attempted suicide or inflicted serious injury from engaging in deliberate self-harm.

"In 2005, official records show that 645 people took their own lives on this island. In 2006, that number increased again with a figure approaching 800 people. Many were young, and a high proportion were elderly.

"Today's event is about raising awareness around this issue.

"It is also about reminding the Health Minister that the Health Committee made 26 recommendations which need to be acted upon.

"While suicide is now better understood than before, and it is accepted that suicide victims and survivors should be treated with compassion and care, the fact remains that only a tiny proportion of the budget in the north and in the south is devoted to mental health.

"Mental health treatment and services, especially those which are community-based, are still not taken seriously. This needs to be rectified." ENDS

Note to editor:

The Health Committee report identified 26 recommendations to improve our collective efforts on this issue. Among these the Assembly Report called on the Minister for Health to 'establish a designated Suicide Prevention Directorate, along similar lines to the National Office for Suicide Prevention' in the south. The introduction of a Directorate, with a dedicated suicide director and team would ensure greater co-ordination of resources, as well as improvements in training of personnel.

Also, while the Health Committee Report supported the overall approach contained in the 'Protect Life' strategy, which focuses on specific priority groups, it proposes that these be redefined and examined in light of the increasing evidence that older people, and especially those living in rural areas, are at great risk.

One very important recommendation arising from the Health Committee's Report concerns the review and evaluation arrangements that were part of the 'Protect Life' strategy. While provision for such a review was built into the strategy in 2006 it has not yet taken place.

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