We have welcomed calls by leading figures from sport, the arts and the voluntary sector for the doubling of funding for counselling in Northern Ireland.
Boxers Michael Conlan, Carl Frampton and Katie Taylor; Gary Lightbody, the lead singer of Snow Patrol; and international rugby players Andrew Trimble, Tommy Bowe and Peter Stringer are among the individuals and organisations who have signed an open letter, which highlights the rate of suicide in Northern Ireland.
Published in the Belfast Telegraph, the letter urges Stormont’s health minister Robin Swann to ensure no one waits longer than 28 days for a counselling appointment.
The letter has also been signed by jockey AP McCoy, the 2015 BBC Sports Personality of the Year; former Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley; ex-snooker World Champion Ken Doherty, and singer Brian McFadden, and has been welcomed by Martin Bell, our Deputy Head of Policy and Public Affairs.
Martin said: “It’s great to see the backing of many people from all areas of life in Northern Ireland for the vital campaign led by Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR) for an immediate, systemic response to tackling suicide.
“We warmly welcome the return of the Assembly and are pleased to see mental health listed as a priority in the Executive’s new programme.
“Improving access to psychological therapies will be critical if we are to deliver the more responsive mental health support that the people of Northern Ireland most urgently need and we look forward to working with the Minister to deliver these ambitions through the promised mental health action plan and longer-term mental health strategy.
“However, a more immediate response is required to the news of more tragic loss of life through suicide and we urge the Executive to waste no time in putting significant investment into the nation’s mental health and support the PPR campaign’s call to double of funding for counselling and to ensure nobody waits longer than 28 days for an appointment.”
It was produced by Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR) as part of its #123GP campaign for increased funding and provision of GP practice-based counselling in Northern Ireland, and calls on Mr Swann to “declare a public health emergency” on suicide.
“Suicide is something everybody hopes never comes to their door, but the reality as we’ve seen is that it can affect any family,” the letter states.
“Access to the right support at the right time cam prevent suicide and right across our communities there are numerous excellent suicide prevention and crisis intervention services working tirelessly to help keep people safe and to reduce the risk of suicide.
"More people have died by suicide since the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement than died as a direct result of the conflict. Our rates of suicide are the highest across these islands, something that is receiving international attention for all the wrong reasons.
“Behind the statistic of 307 deaths by suicide in 2017/18 are individuals who were much loved and continue to be mourned by loved ones.”
The letter adds: “The current suicide reduction target of 10% over five years, equating to roughly six deaths a year being prevented, is wholly inadequate.
“Similarly, the funding allocation of £10.35 million – a minuscule 0.2% of the overall health budget – is a fraction of what’s required.
“Access to services is piece-meal and waiting times for counselling vary greatly across trusts, with people being forced to wait several months for an initial appointment.
“We are therefore asking you as the health minister to declare a public health emergency.
“As a first practical step we call on you to:
- Immediately double the funding available for counselling
- Ensure that nobody waits longer than 28 days for a counselling appointment.
“Going forward, it is vital for you to ensure that suicide prevention is prioritised within the upcoming Programme for Government, not only by your own department, but around the Executive table.”
To find a counsellor who can help you with any of the issues mentioned in this article, visit our Therapist Directory.