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Welfare reform could result in spike in suicides

By Staff Reporter

WELFARE reform could have a major impact on the levels of suicide in North Belfast a leading mental health academic has claimed.

Professor of Mental Health at the University of Ulster, Siobhan O’Neill, said that mental health problems coincided with the normal ups and downs of life and said that policy decisions made at the top often had an impact on the communities most vulnerable.

Speaking during yesterday’s World Suicide Prevention day (September 10), Prof O’Neill also said that direct or indirect exposure to violence in relation to the Troubles, social deprivation and poverty caused by the economic crisis, have all had a major impact on high suicide levels in North Belfast.

Prof O’Neill was speaking after first-time research linking suicide, gender and the use of the health services published by the University of Ulster revealed that men in the north are less likely than women to proactively seek support from health services prior to suicide.

Recent statistics show that last year out of 303 deaths by suicide, 229 of those were male and 74 were female.

Speaking to the North Belfast News Prof O’Neill said that often people refused to acknowledge the impact of a life problem on their mental health.

“It’s not just about mental health it’s about life events and whenever men feel suicidal they don’t think that it’s a mental health problem that they have, but it’s a life problem,” she said.

“The two go together, we can’t really say which life events are going to create mental health problems for people because it’s different and people have different meanings as to what happens to them.

“There are a number of factors that come into play in North Belfast. The conflict is one, there is an association towards violence and pain and making that step from thinking about suicide to actually doing something about it.

“We found people who have experienced a lot of pain are less fearful of the act and are more likely to go ahead and make that step and that’s very, very dangerous.

“We also have the other factors of deprivation and poverty and of course the financial crisis has had an impact on suicide rates.

“That then creates a double whammy because suicide itself is contagious, if you’ve been exposed to suicide and if there is a lot of talk of methods and detail of how people have carried it out, it can actually make a person more likely to do it.”

Prof O’Neill praised the services working in North Belfast to reduce suicide rates but said that more needed to be done at the top to combat dramatic impacts on communities.

“I think when a community is moving from a period of conflict to a period of relative peace it can be very difficult for people who have been involved in that conflict to feel connected again and to find their purpose,” she added.

“It is a time for transition for these communities and so we need to be very careful and protective of them.

“As a society we need to look at how we make people feel included and the peace process has a lot to do with that.

“We need to make sure that people continue to feel valued and that they have a purpose because ultimately that will prevent suicides and we also need to look at those high risk groups such as the Gay and Lesbian community every time we make a policy decision that effects these groups.

“Things like the economic crisis and welfare reform, they will all have an impact on suicide levels within a whole community and that makes mental health services only one piece of the puzzle.”

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