Just how much is suicide a part of our communities?

With the current global health pandemic bringing the whole world to a sudden halt, concerns are mounting, not solely about our physical wellbeing but also our mental wellbeing.  

And rightly so, as Northern Ireland, a post conflict society, is still tackling a huge mental health crisis. Having compiled a data set on the number of suicides within each of the 11 local government districts of Northern Ireland, we can analyse the extent of the health emergency that has been ongoing and underlaying in our communities for years.  

The period examined stems from 2016 until 2018. The death contributes to the year of registration, and not necessarily the year of occurrence. A suicide is confirmed as such, by a coroner, as death by self-inflicted harm or events of undetermined intent. 

The council areas are in no particular order. The bar chart presented will illustrate the numbers for each council over the three year period. The number of deaths was divided by the total population and the numbers were transferred into percentages.  

This bar chart illustrates the percentage of suicides within each council area between 2016 and 2018. Each council area is represented by a colour for each year.
  • Antrim and Newtonabbey – Orange
  • Armagh City and Banbridge – Green
  • Belfast City – Blue
  • Causeway Coast and Glens – Red
  • Derry and Strabane – Yellow
  • Fermanagh and Omagh – Light Blue
  • Lisburn and Castlereagh – Pink
  • Mid and East Antrim – Dark Green
  • Mid Ulster – Light Green
  • Newry Mourne and Down – Peach
  • Ards and North Down – Purple
  • Northern Ireland as a whole – Grey

Antrim and Newtonabbey Borough Council, which registered 28 suicides within 2016, had quite a decline in 2017 as the number of deaths to suicide halved, bringing their total to 14. It appears to be the only council area to see their numbers half at any stage throughout the period in question. However, it saw numbers inflate again the following year, reaching 23 suicides in 2018. 

Armagh City and Banbridge Borough Council recorded 23 deaths by suicide in 2016. This then fell slightly during 2017 to 19 and rose again to 23 the following year. 

Belfast City Borough Council, was listed the area with the most suicides throughout the three consecutive years. In 2016 this area recorded an extortionate 79 suicides, 89 in 2017 and 92 in 2018. Belfast City Borough Council documented the biggest jump over the three years analysed, taking into consideration it boasts the largest population out of the 11 councils within Northern Ireland.  

Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council tallied 17 in 2016, 23 in 2017 and reduced their count to 20 in 2018.

Derry City and Strabane Borough Council attributed 24 deaths to suicide which then lowered to 22 and lowered once more to 21 counts by 2018. 

Fermanagh and Omagh Borough Council had 16 recorded deaths in 2016 which rose to 23 in 2017. This was matched in 2018 with another 23 suicides.

In 2016 Lisburn and Castlereagh Borough Council had a steady increase in suicides year on year with 18 suicides during 2016, rising to 21 the following year and again in 2018 to 23. 

Mid and East Antrim started off with a higher rate of suicides, 27, but this then lowered year on year to 24 and then to 22. This is one of the only councils to decrease consistently their number of deaths by suicide. 

 Mid Ulster added 18 deaths in 2016 which increased by two the following year and then dropped by quite a few, to 13 in 2018. It has recorded the lowest number of suicides within a Local Government District out of the three years. 

The bar chart illustrates that Newry Mourne and Down Borough Council registered 25 deaths to suicide in 2016 which rose to 28 in 2017 and faced the same number the following year. 

Finally, Ards and North Down Borough Council is another council area to see the decline in deaths by suicide as they started with 23 in 2016, then 21 in 2017 and this figure then fell to 19 in 2018. It is the second largest council regarding population figures across the country, so these a quite low statistics as a percentage. 

The Final bar on the chart represents Northern Ireland as a whole. In 2016 Northern Ireland had registered 298 suicides. This figure rose the following year to 305 and again to 307 in 2018. These numbers are quite substantial for the size of this country. The number of suicides that have been registered here in Northern Ireland since the start of the Good Friday Agreement (4,500), have surpassed the amount of lives lost throughout the entirety of the Troubles (3,500). Within 21 years, we have beaten the total of deaths that took place in a war zone. Here in Northern Ireland, the rates of mental illness are thought to be at least 25% higher than England. Consequently, we are the only region in the UK not to see a decline in our suicide rates.

Councillor McCaffrey insists suicide is a “pressing issue”

Councillor Chris McCaffrey, Fermanagh and Omagh Borough Council.

Councillor Chris McCaffrey from the Fermanagh and Omagh Borough Council spoke about the extent of the mental health emergency and said that “unfortunately there is a stigma of criminalisation of people who succumb to this mental health illness”. 

Councillor McCaffrey believes that cutbacks within the health sector have exacerbated the problem. Now, waiting lists have been inundated, making access even more difficult.

Suicide rates for men are especially high and despite outlets such as The Men’s Shed in Lisnaskea, the number of available services are limited. Furthermore transportation issues can play their part, as Fermanagh and Omagh Borough Council remains the most rural council area in Northern Ireland.  

“Anxiety, financial worries and lonliness amongst young people in particular seem to be the predominant features behind each death”.

Coleraine man abseils from Belfast Castle for Mind Your Mood

Ulster Craic also spoke to a member of Coleraine Rugby Club and university lecturer, Milne, who recently took part an abseil at Belfast Castle to help raise much needed funds for mental health organisation ‘Mind Your Mood’. He raised concerns about the student population and the obstacles that they often face.

Students today face increasing pressures as they study for their degree. There are higher expectations from society, family and friends, there are greater financial pressures and there is a constant sense of change that pervades all their studies. 

“I have seen the number of health related issues increase but there is an even greater incidence of mental health problems. Ulster University, like all universities, has seen a reduction in qualified staff, advisors and health practitioners. Students need that support and I strongly advocate that our university increases the support. Credit where it is due, it is good to see that this is starting to happen. In the meantime, initiatives such as ‘Mind Your Mood’ are invaluable.” 

Mental health is something that each and everyone of us deals with every day of our lives. If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone you can visit the Mind Your Mood website at https://www.ulster.ac.uk/mindyourmood or visit the Samaritans website at https://www.samaritans.org/ or ring their helpline on 116 123.

Coleraine man, Milne, abseiling from the top of Belfast Castle.
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