Skip to main content

Suicide (Prevention)

Volume 543: debated on Wednesday 25 April 2012

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Secretary of State to set up a body to establish a public initiative for the prevention of suicide and self harm, to work with internet providers and others to reduce access to information on the internet and through other sources on methods of suicide and to develop a system of alerts and blocks for internet searches relating to suicide; and for connected purposes.

After choosing suicide prevention as the subject of my ten-minute rule Bill, I was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) to the Public Initiative for the Prevention of Suicide and Self-harm, an organisation, based in Duncairn gardens in Belfast, that endeavours to work with those who have attempted suicide or are contemplating suicide and the loved ones of those who have done so. I have been deeply humbled by the dedication of this organisation and am happy to work with it, and indeed others like it, to do all I can to make a difference.

It is true that when someone loses a loved one to depression and suicide, little can be said that will really comfort them. The pain of such a loss is unimaginable and the hurt is inexplicable, and only those who have walked that lonely road have any real understanding of the multiplicity of feelings that wreck the mind. Many families bereaved through suicide regret that they did not recognise the signs that something was wrong and, therefore, carry guilt for many years. To such people we must bring a message of hope. Although their intense feelings of grief can often be overwhelming and at times frightening, it is true that healing can yet come.

The words that sum up the work of PIPS are “planting the seeds of hope”, and I trust that my Bill will play at least a small part in forwarding that worthy cause. The main thrust of the Bill is to gain help for those who feel suicidal and are vulnerable to the influence of others. Sadly, there is a great need for a change in public attitudes, and we as parliamentarians have a part to play in increasing awareness and understanding about suicide as a major public health problem. For too long this subject has been hidden and few desire to talk openly about it, as if silence on the subject will make it go away. Nothing could be further from the truth. We need openness and we must do everything we can to help prevent suicide and provide urgent help and hope for those who are contemplating it.

Therefore, let us consider suicide and depression and its impact on the community. No matter what community someone says they come from, the pain and the question “Why?” will hurt just the same. Statistics show that people living in the most economically deprived areas are at a high risk of depression, self-harm and suicide. To take an example from Northern Ireland, the number of suicides has increased by more than 60% in north and west Belfast.

Through its experience of working in the area of suicide prevention, PIPS has been able to identify some key themes associated with depression and suicide in our community. With the economic situation and the downturn, many people have experienced the pressure of mounting debts and the threat of bankruptcy or repossession. The recession has made that worse, with rising unemployment, and it is often those experiencing the highest levels of economic deprivation who are hit hardest. The credit crunch is also likely to affect young people from deprived backgrounds, as those who are academically unqualified will have greater difficulty than ever getting jobs in this new climate.

Other issues that affect the emotional well-being of our young people are a lack of coping strategies and a lack of communication skills. Instead of spending time talking to family and friends, so much of the communication of our young people nowadays is non-verbal. There is texting, Facebook, chatrooms, e-mail and internet gaming instead of face-to-face communication, and that may leave some young people unable to express their feelings when they experience the difficult times that we all encounter.

It is therefore important for us all to recognise the signs in our family and friends which could signal that something is deeply troubling them—that they may have a problem. People need to know that they are not on their own and where they can get help. We need to be more aware, to ask, “Are you okay? Do you want to talk?” and, of course, to be there for them when they desire to talk. I remember a young man at 2 o’clock in the morning in a hospital bed, saying to me, “I wanted to talk, but nobody wanted to listen.”

The end of personal relationships and the breakdown of the family unit all take their toll in today’s society. Depression, suicide and self-harm are issues that do not discriminate; they affect everyone and touch whole families and entire communities. Suicide occurs in persons of all ages and backgrounds, but certain groups of people are at an increased risk of suicide attempts. These include persons with a psychiatric illness and those with a history of attempted suicide.

Almost 1 million people worldwide die by suicide each year. That is more than in all the wars that take place throughout the world. Every year there can be anywhere from 10 million to 20 million suicide attempts, making suicide the 8th leading cause of death in males and the 16th leading cause of death in females. Those statistics are most prevalent among teenage boys aged 15 to 19 years old and men of 20 to 24 years of age. The devastation that it creates makes it a public health issue.

In Northern Ireland last year, 59 people died on our roads, yet 313 people died by suicide. What if that had occurred on our roads? What would the professionals, the politicians and the general public have to say then? Suicide is not universally preventable, but it has been estimated that up to 80% of suicide victims display some warning signs or symptoms.

Many turn to the internet to seek the comfort and guidance that they cannot find in their daily lives, but, although we must recognise the internet as an important resource in today’s society, we must be mindful of the fact that there are websites and chatrooms which encourage the vulnerable, the lonely and the depressed to consider taking their own lives.

Many young people talk about “catching the bus” when they refer to seeking information on the internet about suicide. Organisations such as PIPS believe that, when certain terms are used to access information on suicide or self-harm, a “pop-up” should appear, informing the individual of the help and support that is available. A gatekeeper or guardian should be in place to monitor websites, and they should have the power to forward information to the appropriate authority with a view to having the website closed down. A complaints procedure should also be in place. I feel that as young people today are becoming more insular and relying more on computers to interact socially, that would make a significant contribution to lowering the levels of suicide and of self-harm which are sadly prevalent in today’s society.

In conclusion, there is no single approach to suicide prevention. It requires a co-ordinated approach and a combined effort not only from public services and organisations, but from the private sector, voluntary groups and individuals. I believe, however, that this Bill can represent a significant step in addressing a complex issue that devastates too many families and claims too many young lives. The challenge is now before this House and this Government to do something in response to the call for action. For too long, too many have passed on by because the sorrow and grief of suicide has not touched their particular family. I have pleasure in presenting this Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That Dr William McCrea, Ian Paisley, David Simpson, Lady Hermon, Ms Margaret Ritchie, Naomi Long, Kate Hoey, Fiona Bruce, Andrew Percy, Mark Pritchard, Paul Goggins and Mr Frank Field present the Bill.

Dr William McCrea accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 27 April and to be printed (Bill 333).