The number of people taking their own lives in the Dungannon District more than doubled during the economic downturn with men aged 24 to 64 worst affected, it has been revealed.
Official figures show that the number of suicides in the local district spiked in 2008 at twelve, from lows of one suicide in each of the years 2002 and 2003.
In fact, more Dungannon people died as a result of suicide in 2008 than in the six years between 1998 and 2004, according to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency.
Reassuringly, the suicide rate has dropped markedly since 2008, with only four people recorded as taking their own lives in 2012.
The spike in suicides has been repeated across the UK, and has been linked by the Government’s Medical Research Council to unemployment and recession.
Social scientist Dr Srinivasa Katikireddi of the Research Council said: “There is a wealth of research showing mental health has suffered due to the recession, with people even taking their own lives. I suspect job insecurity plays a part. This is an urgent public health priority.”
Dr David Stuckler, a sociologist at Cambridge University, also linked a rise in suicides to the recession.
His study, published in the British Medical Journal, found the number of unemployed men rose on average by 25.6 per cent each year from 2008 to 2010, which was associated with an annual increase in male suicides of 3.6 per cent.
Dr Stuckler said: “Much of men’s identity and sense of purpose is tied up with a job. It brings income, status, importance.”
He called for improved mental health services and programmes to help people back to work.
The latest figures show that a total of 3,288 suicides were registered in Northern Ireland from the beginning of 1998 to the end of 2012.
Of those who died from suicide, 77% were men.
In the last 10 years the suicide rate per 100,000 of the population in Northern Ireland has increased from 10.8 in 2002 to 15.2 in 2012.
The highest number of deaths registered between 1998 and 2012 was in Belfast where 718 people took their own lives over the 15 year period. The lowest number was in Moyle District Council area where 31 people died from suicide.
The highest suicide rate over the last three years was in the most deprived council area (Belfast) and the lowest was in the least deprived area (Magherafelt).
According to the Department of Health, Northern Ireland faces a difficult challenge to reduce suicide rates, particularly in light of the additional threat posed by the current economic downturn.
It adds that it is now more important than ever to work across all sectors to reduce the high incidence of suicide and self-harm in our local communities.
The average annual suicide rate per 100,000 of the population based on the last three years’ data (2010-12) was 24 deaths in Belfast compared to seven in Magherafelt.
The 2008/11 Programme for Government set the target of an average annual death rate of 10.7 per 100,000 of population over the three year period 2010 to 2012.
However, the average annual suicide registration rate per 100,000 of the population in Northern Ireland for 2010-12 was 16 deaths.