Professor Siobhan O’Neill calls on MLAs for urgent action to mitigate cost of living crisis

In a letter sent to MLAs (read here) ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day (Saturday 10th September), Mental Health Champion, Professor Siobhan O’Neill, raised her concerns that, if urgent action is not taken, the cost of living crisis may directly impact on suicides in Northern Ireland.

Professor O’Neill points out that financial struggles and debt are key contributing factors to depression and suicide, citing that in a 2015 study of over 1,600 suicides in Northern Ireland, financial crises was a contributory factor in at least one in five suicides in middle aged men.

“Suicide is an avoidable death that causes shockwaves of suffering across families and communities. I am extremely concerned about the impact of the current situation on the Northern Ireland population, which may well be even worse than elsewhere,” explained Professor O’Neill, as prior to the pandemic one-in-five people overall, and over 100,000 children in Northern Ireland lived in poverty.

In a plea to MLAs and Government Departments, the Mental Health Champion recommended that a package of mitigations be provided to most vulnerable including an increase in Social Welfare benefits, additional payments for people who are disabled, and additional support for families to address the harmful impact of child poverty.

Going further, the Mental Health Champion also called for additional support and funding to provided that directly addressed the mental health impact of the cost-of-living crisis. This should include:

  • Suicide prevention training for frontline workers providing advice and helping people manage the impact of economic crisis, including financial service providers, and those in benefits agencies and foodbanks.
  • Equipping staff supporting those with mental health difficulties with resources to direct people to sources of financial support and to manage financial pressures.
  • Additional funding for advice agencies who support people who are in financial crisis and mitigate the mental health impact.
  • Urgent measures to support people to avoid debt and manage problem debt and resources for agencies supporting people in managing problem debt to meet the upcoming demand.

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