Shocking new data released by the Northern Ireland Statistic and Research Agency (NISRA) has revealed figures that show a total of 3,288 suicides were registered in Northern Ireland from the beginning of 1998 to the end of 2012.
Of these figures it is reported that 77% were men. While the results are only provisional, it is a staggeringly high first round figure.
As many people have died from suicide in Northern Ireland since the signing of the Good Friday agreement, as were killed during the entire ‘Troubles.’
The Detail, which is an investigative based news agency in Belfast, has trawled through 15 years of suicide data as part of its legacy series, which has examined issues linked to the Northern Ireland conflict. The reports were carried out with the support of the North’s community relations council.
The Legacy is seeking to shed light on controversies at the heart of the conflict, investigate the social costs of violence, and examine the international experience in transforming communities blighted by violence and division.
Peter Osborne, chairperson the Community Relations Council, said “The Community Relations Council is delighted to support the initiative taken by The Detail to investigate and comment upon a broad range of issues and opinions about the legacies of the past.
“This is difficult, challenging and complex work but it is necessary; not just to understand the past but to understand, recognize and acknowledge what happened and its impact on others.
“We hope, whether people agree or disagree with what is included, there is an active engagement with the breadth of the material and, as a result, real learning for the future.”
The Irish Times reports that the greatest number of deaths registered between 1998 and 2012 was in Belfast, where 718 people took their own lives over the 15 year period. The lowest number was in Moyle District Council area, where 31 people died from suicide.
The highest suicide rate over the last three years was in the most deprived council area (Belfast) and the lowest was in the least deprived area (Magherafelt).
View Suicides in Northern Ireland 1998-2012 in a full screen map
Belfast had an annual average of 24 deaths for every 100,000 compared with seven in Magherafelt (based on data from 2010-2012).
All suspected suicides are referred to the coroner and take time to be investigated. This means that there can be a substantial period of time between a death occurring and it being registered as a suicide.
For example, of the 313 suicides registered in 2010, only 141 actually occurred in 2010 with the remainder taking place in earlier years.
Research conducted by Queen’s University Belfast in 2012 concluded that that the conflict in Northern Ireland had a profound effect on suicide rates.
Professor Mike Tomlinson at the University said "that the steep increase in recent years may be accounted for by those who grew up in the 1970s during the worst years of the violence."
He examined 40 years of death registration data and found that the highest suicide rate was for men aged 35-44.
The Irish Times report went on to detail how new research carried out by a team at the University of Ulster confirms that people in Northern Ireland who experienced a conflict-related traumatic event are more likely to have suicidal thoughts and plans than those who experienced other types of trauma.
The research team from the Bamford Centre for Mental Health and Well-Being at the University of Ulster has examined the link between conflict-related events and suicide attempts in Northern Ireland.
Their analysis of data from over 4,000 people – collected in 2008 for a World Mental Health Survey initiative – backs the suggestion that traumatic events associated with the Northern Ireland conflict are associated with suicidal thoughts and plans.
Professor Siobhan O’Neill, who is leading the research, said: “Suicidal ideation (thoughts) and behavior are important public health issues, not least because they give us an insight into the factors associated with death by suicide.
“There are many causes of suicide and it is a complex issue. Mental disorders are an important risk factor with the majority of those who die by suicide having a mental disorder.
“However, most people with a mental disorder do not go on to die by suicide and many people who die by suicide have no recorded mental health disorder.
“It is therefore important that the associations between suicide and other factors, such as trauma, are examined.”
A health official in Northern Ireland said that reduction in the suicide rate continues to be a major priority for the department. “Over £7 million is allocated annually to suicide prevention in Northern Ireland. This is more per head of population than any other UK country.
“Suicide is a very complex societal issue and the reasons for the relatively high rate of suicide in Northern Ireland are not known.
“However, it is clear that poverty, recession, deprivation, the legacy of the conflict, exposure to violence, and higher levels of mental health needs are all influencing factors.”
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