DUP MLA Gary Middleton says a new suicide prevention and mental health promotion strategy should be published, public awareness campaigns launched and enhanced CCTV and safety measures introduced along the River Foyle, to help tackle the problem of people taking their own lives in Londonderry.
The new MLA used the occasion of his maiden speech at Stormont to highlight what for him and many in the city is a pressing issue.
He pointed out that how between January and March alone, two bodies were recovered from the River Foyle by Foyle Search and Rescue.
“They have also taken one individual out of the river alive and 13 away from the river edge and bridges, while also having 17 causes of concern.
“I am sure that you will all agree that these figures are deeply concerning.
“Thankfully, with the work of Foyle Search and Rescue, lives are being saved and interventions put in place,” he told colleagues.
Stormont’s newest MLA proposed the topic for an adjournment debate last Tuesday, May 12.
After highlighting the problem he proposed a number of steps that could be taken to improve the situation.
He said: “The first is by publishing the new suicide prevention and mental health promotion strategy.
“I know that that is under development, and I look forward to hearing from the Health Minister where that is at.
“The second is by increasing public awareness through media campaigns.
“We have seen the impact of those types of campaigns on road safety, and there is no doubt that they have helped to increase the public’s understanding around road traffic collisions and therefore helped to reduce the number of traffic-related deaths.
“We should further develop those types of campaigns in the area of mental health awareness and suicide prevention.
“Many individual organisations, schools and youth groups have already done so and are actively promoting the importance of looking after your mental health.
“In my constituency, the Cathedral Youth Club in the Fountain will shortly release a DVD to raise much-needed awareness among the youth sector and to teach our young people that there is always help available no matter how difficult the situation is.
“Thirdly, I believe that further safety measures are required along our river edges and bridges to support the work of organisations and, of course, to help individuals.
“Additional CCTV would be of significant importance, along with additional signage to help those who need assistance and to make them aware of the services that are available.
“When interventions are made on the river edges, one of the main concerns is what assistance is then available for the individuals affected. Many would say that there are, at times, only two choices: either the A&E department or the police station.
“In light of that information, I plan to further work with the Health Minister and meet him to discuss the service provision in the Londonderry area for those who find themselves in difficulty and, indeed, whether a detox facility would be feasible.
“I want to pay tribute to all those who have been campaigning. There is a strong campaign on the ground in my constituency to raise awareness, seek support for additional services and maintain the services that we have.”