DUNGANNON District has the highest rate of serious mental illness in the South West region of Northern Ireland, including higher rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide.
A major research initiative launched by the Niamh Louise Foundation, a suicide awareness group, has highlighted the gravity of the problem in the local district.
The report revealed that an estimated 11,550 residents in the Dungannon district suffer from mental health problems out of a total population of 57,748, racking up a cost of £36million in terms of care costs and lost output.
One of the report’s major findings was that 744 people in the Dungannon district tried to harm themselves during 2010, and that the figures are increasing, particularly among young people.
It warned that there was considerable concern at the long waiting lists from six to nine months for help through the NHS for talking therapies, and that the provision of mental health services in the area was ‘far from adequate’.
Within the south-west region, Dungannon had by far the highest level of psychiatric admissions with 34 persons being recorded as admitted to hospital as a result of a mood or anxiety disorder during 2010.
The local district’s figure accounted for 4.8% of the total admissions to hospital in Northern Ireland as a result of a mood or anxiety disorder in 2010. Cookstown was second with 11 admissions, followed by Fermanagh with 7 admissions and Magherafelt with 3 admissions.
The report went on to warn that with the current ‘difficult financial and economic circumstances’ facing rural communities such as Dungannon demand will increase for mental health services.
The report also highlighted concerns that mental health services will be one of the sectors which will face extreme budgetary cuts, as it is often seen as the ‘poor relation’ within the health and social care realm. Worryingly, the study found that many people had to wait up to 13 weeks for a referral from their GP for professional help.
According to the report, which was supported by SWARD (South West Action for Rural development), from 2005 through to 2010 Fermanagh had a total of 63 registered deaths by suicide. Dungannon was second with a total of 53 deaths, Cookstown recorded 37 and Magherafelt 34.
The report warned: “The rural culture of self-reliance and stoicism, combined with a heightened awareness of neighbours business and movements works against the propensity to admit to needing help to self and others and thereafter seeking help.
“This is highly exacerbated by stigma and discrimination within the rural community.”
The Níamh Louise Foundation was founded in February 2006 following the death of Níamh Louise McKee, who died by suicide aged 15. The Níamh Louise Foundation aims to implement the ‘Protect Life Strategy for Northern Ireland’ at ground level in local communities to reduce the numbers of people taking their own lives in Northern Ireland.
The main activities of this locally based charity is to provide suicide awareness, prevention, intervention and postvention services across the areas of Armagh, Tyrone and further afield, particularly to rural areas which can be very hard to reach and highly stigmatised and very reluctant to seek help.