High suicide rate in Northern Ireland linked to alcohol abuse

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‘Suicide and homicide in Northern Ireland’ is a new report from the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness.

The report shows that there are links between alcohol use and the increased suicide rate that has been seen in Northern Ireland over recent years. Suicide has been falling elsewhere in the UK in recent times, but this trend is bucked in Northern Ireland where more than 300 people took their own lives in 2010, the highest figure ever recorded in Northern Ireland.

The report recommends:

  1. The suicide rate in the general population and in the main demographic sub-groups should be monitored closely as evidence of the effectiveness of the Protect Life strategy.
  2. The causes of the higher rate of suicide in Northern Ireland in comparison to England and Wales should be investigated.
  3. The forthcoming mental health strategy for Northern Ireland should highlight the importance of risk management and include specific measures to tackle risk of suicide and serious violence.
  4. Policy-makers and services should develop youth mental health services spanning the age range up to 25 years, with the skills and capacity to address substance misuse and self-harm.
  5. Services for self-harm, substance misuse and mental illness should jointly review how they collaborate in the care of young people, particularly in deprived areas.
  6. Reducing alcohol misuse and dependence should be seen as a key step towards reducing the risk of suicide and homicide, requiring a broad public health approach including health education and alcohol pricing.
  7. Mental health services should ensure that they have full availability of services for alcohol and drug misuse, including dual diagnosis services.
  8. In-patient services should adapt or strengthen protocols for preventing and responding to absconding.
  9. In-patient services should abandon the use of intermittent observation.
  10. Services should ensure that comprehensive care planning takes place prior to hospital discharge as a key component of the management of risk.
  11. Patients discharged from hospital should be followed up within seven days.
  12. Services should introduce an assertive outreach function into community mental health services, through staff training, reduced case loads, and new team structures.
  13. Mental health services should review their risk management processes to ensure that they are based on comprehensive assessment rather than risk factor checklists, and backed up by appropriate skills training and access to experienced colleagues.
  14. Professional and policy leaders should ensure that, when serious incidents occur under mental health care, they strike an appropriate balance between identifying blame and recognising the complexities of clinical risk management, both in public statements and in how the incidents are investigated.
  15. Initiatives to combat the stigma of mental illness should emphasise the low risk to the general public from mentally ill patients living in the community.
  16. Courts and mental health services should review the sentencing of mentally ill people with a view to establishing alternatives to imprisonment.

Professor Louis Appleby is from the University of Manchester which led the research said:

Of all the patients who died by suicide, 60% were thought to be misusing alcohol by their doctors. About half of these were alcohol dependent.

Dr Uzma Huda, Vice Chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Northern Ireland said there needs to be a minimum pricing for alcohol:

We can no longer afford to ignore the growing trend linking alcohol and suicide, particularly in young people.

If you need help

If you need help and support now and you live in the UK or the Republic of Ireland, please call the Samaritans on 116 123.

If you live elsewhere, we recommend finding a local Crisis Centre on the IASP website.

We also highly recommend that you visit the Connecting with People: Staying Safe resource.


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Andre Tomlin

André Tomlin is an Information Scientist with 20 years experience working in evidence-based healthcare. He's worked in the NHS, for Oxford University and since 2002 as Managing Director of Minervation Ltd, a consultancy company who do clever digital stuff for charities, universities and the public sector. Most recently André has been the driving force behind the Mental Elf and the National Elf Service; an innovative digital platform that helps professionals keep up to date with simple, clear and engaging summaries of evidence-based research. André is a Trustee at the Centre for Mental Health and an Honorary Research Fellow at University College London Division of Psychiatry. He lives in Bristol, surrounded by dogs, elflings and lots of woodland!

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