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Ulster University (UU) research on suicide deaths and unique features of suicidal behaviour in Northern Ireland (NI) has significantly shaped NI’s suicide prevention strategies.

These include

  • The refreshed Protect Life Strategy and the Protect Life 2 Strategy with GBP9,000,000 annual funding and the Towards Zero Suicide (TZS) programme in mental health services .
  • UU's research with Samaritans Ireland led to optimisation of call management systems resulting in a “significant increase” in successful call attempts.
  • This research also led to changes in national volunteer training, service coordination, and the delivery of services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Research Context 

    From 2005-2015 the rates of suicide in NI were persistently high, whilst other regions of the UK saw a decline. UU research established the unique features of suicide in NI and has been instrumental in shaping suicide prevention policy and practice in the region.

    Bunting and O’Neill examined coronial data on over 1,600 suicides in NI from 2010-14. This study was commissioned as part of a 2006 suicide prevention strategy, Protect Life, to provide the first comprehensive insight into the factors affecting suicide in NI specifically. For the first time in a sample of this size, the research answered key questions about suicide in NI. A summary of the study’s findings was published in a report to the Department of Health and a series of peer-reviewed outputs. The study illustrated area level differences, employment profiles and the gender and age breakdown of those who died by suicide. A key paper based on these data reported that only 30% of those who died by suicide were known to mental health services beyond primary care. This research was also the first to highlight how patterns of suicide in NI differed from other regions, with strong associations with deprivation, and the use of multiple medications. The study also highlighted the very high mental health medication (prescription psychotrophic medication) non-adherence rates (62.1%) in NI among those who had died by suicide.

    Additional UU research also demonstrated for the first time, links between Troubles-related trauma exposure and suicidal behaviour in NI, based on data from the NI Study of Health and Stress undertaken in 2008 as part of the World Mental Health Survey Initiative. The section of the study on suicidal behaviour quantified the rates of suicidal thoughts, plans and behaviour in the NI general population. The research showed clear links between suicidal behaviour and exposure to trauma related to the NI Troubles.

  • Sources To Corroborate 
    • (C1) Refreshed Protect Life strategy.
    • (C2) Protect Life 2 draft strategy for public consultation.
    • (C3) Protect Life 2 Strategy.
    • (C4) TZS Project Initiation Document; and, testimonial from Towards Zero Suicide Regional Coordinator
    • (C5) Evidence of the effectiveness of TZS in Detroit: Coffey CE. Building a system of perfect depression care in behavioral health. Jt Comm J Qual Patient Saf. 2007 Apr;33(4):193-9.
    • (C6) Testimonial from Chief Executive Officer of Samaritans Ireland.
    • (C7) MEL Research (2020) Samaritans Helpline Caller Outcomes Survey.