Hamilton highlights the importance of discussing mental health issues

Date published: 08 September 2015

Health Minister Simon Hamilton has reiterated his commitment to tackling the high local suicide rate in Northern Ireland before World Suicide Prevention Day on 10 September.

Launching the Samaritans 2014/15 Impact Report for Northern Ireland at Parliament Buildings, Mr Hamilton said: “Awareness of the early warning signs of mental health difficulties, early help seeking, and effective treatment are key to preventing more serious mental illness, considering that one in five adults in Northern Ireland will have a mental health condition at any one time, and around half of all women and one quarter of men will experience depression at some point in their lives.

“This is particularly important when you consider that untreated depression is one of the major risk factors for suicide.

“Early intervention for positive mental health and wider measures to improve the quality of life are undoubtedly part of the long-term answer to suicide prevention.

“This will involve addressing the underlying issues that contribute to increased risk of suicide in local communities such as alcohol misuse, unemployment and employability, existing mental illness, and low educational attainment.”

Samaritans have previously published Impact Reports in the Republic of Ireland however this is the first Report to be published in Northern Ireland. The purpose of the Report is to raise the profile of the Samaritans and it documents the work of the organisation and support available.

Catherine Brogan, Samaritans Executive Director for Ireland said: “People who are struggling can feel isolated and alone. They often want to talk about their suicidal feelings but don’t know how to, or fear they will be judged. Talking through your feelings with someone else can make all the difference.

“Samaritans volunteers are there round the clock, every day of the year for people struggling to cope. Our busiest hours tend to be from 6pm in the evening to 2am in the morning, when other support, companionship and services may not be available.”

Commending the Samaritans on their work carried out in Northern Ireland Mr Hamilton continued: “Samaritans have been to the fore in providing emotional support for people in crisis since they opened their first branch in Northern Ireland in 1961.

“Things have come a long way since then, as there are now eight local branches with some 800 active volunteers.

“It is important to acknowledge that Samaritans volunteers regularly go into schools, clubs and institutions to educate people about the work that they do and to talk about emotional health and suicide issues.

“A further example of the often unreported work which the Samaritans do in support of some of the most vulnerable people in society is that they provide a listener scheme for prisoners, who are six times more likely to take their own lives.

“All of this work has made an important contribution to the development and ongoing implementation of our local “Protect Life” suicide prevention strategy to which the Samaritans have made an important contribution.”

The Samaritans have also played a key role in the roll-out of the All-island Action Plan for suicide prevention. Input has included the development of media guidelines to assist journalists with the sensitivities of reporting suicide, and more recently, they are working in partnership with the Public Health Agency to take forward a media monitoring project aimed at further promoting responsible reporting of suicide in the local media.

Notes to editors: 

  1. The Samaritans exist to provide confidential emotional support to any person, irrespective of race, creed, age or status, who is suicidal or despairing, and to increase public awareness of issues around suicide and depression.
  2. Trained volunteers provide the service 24 hours a day, and a large proportion of the Samaritans’ funding is received from public donations. In addition to their telephone support line, the Samaritans also provide support via email and SMS mobile text message, and they are currently exploring a range of new technological interventions.
  3. For a number of years the Samaritans have been at the forefront of the debate surrounding suicide prevention, and have previously participated in the development of the English, Scottish and Republic of Ireland suicide prevention strategies.
  4. In Northern Ireland, the Samaritans have made an important regional contribution to suicide prevention, and have been involved in both the development and ongoing implementation of the “Protect Life” suicide prevention strategy.
  5. DHSSPS provides the Samaritans with a small annual grant currently £16,538 towards central administrative expenditure, although the vast majority of their funding comes from voluntary contributions.
  6. Media enquiries to DHSSPS Press Office on 028 9052 0505 or out of office hours contact the Duty Press Officer via pager number 076 9971 5440 and your call will be returned.
  7. Summary of the Northern Ireland Impact Report 2014/15

    From January to December 2010 these branches supported:

    • Over 116,000 calls were answered by Samaritans branches in Northern Ireland in 2014
    • Over 1000 individuals received face-to-face support
    • Three prison listener schemes at HMP Maghaberry and HMP Magilligan
    • Samaritan volunteer liaison officers worked with GAA Health and Wellbeing officers delivering awareness training to clubs and coaches
    • Work with PHA and the media to promote sensitive and appropriate reporting of suicide
    • Festival team volunteers attended the North West 200 and Belfast Pride events

A copy of the full Northern Ireland Impact Report 2014/15 can be found on the Samaritans website.

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