The council could adopt a down to zero approach to suicide

The council could adopt a down to zero approach to suicide

10 October 2018

A NEW suicide prevention strategy sits on a shelf awaiting ministerial sign off when we get an Assembly and Executive back up and running, but this strategy does not go far enough.

The strategy aspires to a 10% reduction in the number of suicide deaths here by 2023, but we know we have, on average, 300 suicide deaths every year. 

If the Protect Life 2 strategy was successful, it would see the suicide deaths fall to around 270. In the Newry, Mourne and Down area, that would be 23 deaths instead of 26.

We in Suicide Down to Zero believe that this approach is tantamount to ‘an acceptable level’ of suicides. We assert and believe that the aspiration and ambition should be for zero suicides. 

We welcome the motion and debate at last week’s meeting of Newry, Mourne and Down Council on the issue, but even if Secretary of State Karen Bradley did enact Protect Life 2 we believe, regrettably, that we would continue to see an average of 26 deaths every year in our council area. We cannot keep doing the same things and expect different results.

Since Stormont was suspended, district councils are the only tier of government that still function in Northern Ireland. Newry, Mourne and Down Council could take the radical approach that is needed to tackle the phenomenon of suicide head on. They could be the first council to adopt a suicide down to zero approach.

All of the five health trusts in Northern Ireland have committed to zero suicides for people receiving mental health care with them and have begun to operationalise the concept.

A coroner, Mr Joe McCrisken, has repeatedly stated that zero is the only acceptable target for suicide deaths.

We believe that what is happening currently across health trusts should be matched in the council areas and communities whether people in crisis need mental health care or not.

Critics have said that a zero target is unrealistic. 

The prevailing view in the field of suicide prevention, however, is that most, if not all suicides are preventable. There is evidence too that a shift in mind set from ‘suicide is inevitable’ to ‘suicide is preventable’ can in itself prove very powerful.

Who would have thought several years ago for instance that the target for road deaths would be zero and we are all encouraged to join and ‘share the road to zero’ initiative?

Newry, Mourne and Down Council could take a lead and be the first district council in Northern Ireland to adopt a down to zero approach to suicide. 

Suicide prevention sits under the heading of preventable deaths in the local authority’s community plan. Adoption of the approach would the beginning of the mindset shift that is required.

The next thing council could do would be to fill the suicide public information void by creating a communications strategy on the myths and facts about suicide. 

One of the barriers to preventing suicide is that talking about suicide or asking someone if they are suicidal will encourage suicide attempts.

The World Health Organisation has set out some of these common myths and the responding facts in a booklet. To utilise such an authoritative resource would be both valuable and responsible.

It has been said that suicide is so hard to predict and that is indeed true. There are, however, groups of people in our society who are at greater risk of suicide and who are readily identifiable.

People who have lost a loved one or friend to suicide can be at a higher risk of suicide. Those who have survived a suicide attempt have an increased risk of ending their lives by suicide.

A council committed to zero suicide can explore how it can complement the work of the health trusts and other organisations working with these survivors of suicide death or injury. 

Children who lose a parent to suicide will carry that scar for the rest of their lives. We passionately believe that more therapeutic work with these children will prevent problems for their adult lives and also prevent further suicide deaths interrupting the oft seen inter-generational pattern.

We believe there is a groundswell of public support for suicide prevention initiatives. We cannot wait forever for Stormont and on a strategy that is not bold enough. We in Suicide Down to Zero call on local councillors and Newry, Mourne and Down Council officials to act now and adopt a down to zero approach.