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  • PHA Board Meeting Flashmob 5 December 2019

Earlier today (5th December 2019) families bereaved by suicide disrupted the monthly board meeting of the Public Health Agency (PHA) to demand that a public health emergency is declared to tackle Northern Ireland’s suicide crisis.

As PHA board members discussed ‘Emergency Planning’, while ignoring the public health emergency which took 307 lives last year, a flash-mob of campaigners brought the meeting to a standstill singing ‘Alarm Bells’ - their alternative version of Jingle Bells.

Activists, who are members of the #123GP campaign, also gave PHA board member tea-lights, each representing a life lost to suicide throughout 2018, as well as a ‘gift tag displaying facts and figures on our suicide crisis.

You can download these gift tags yourself, and distribute them everywhere you think they'll be seen, and make a difference.

Following on from today’s action these gift tags will be popping up in public places and spaces across the north – keep an eye out for them, take photos and share on social media using the hashtag #DeclareAnEmergency

Outside the PHA headquarters more people gathered to support #123GP’s call for the PHA to declare an emergency.

Supporters arranged tea-lights to read ‘307’, representing all the lives lost to suicide in 2018. 

Julie Magee, who lost her brother to suicide in 2011, took part in today’s action.

She said families feel they have no option but to send a signal that “business as usual” will be interrupted until health authorities start treating suicide as an emergency:

“Alarm bells are ringing in every community here about the suicide crisis, but the only ones who aren’t reacting are those with the power to do something about it.

“We were shocked to learn that the new Suicide Prevention Strategy, Protect Life 2, has set a target to reduce the rate of suicide by only 10% over the next 5 years. 

“That’s means saving only 6 lives a year. This is unacceptable when you compare it to the size of the crisis. 

“We would all much prefer to be at home at this time of the year but we feel that, after being ignored by the health authorities for over 2 years, it’s our responsibility to take action.

“The problem is getting worse and someone has to do something .”


The Suicide Crisis

Northern Ireland’s suicide crisis has been grabbing international news headlines, including most recently in the New York Times.

Twenty-one years after the Good Friday Agreement, the north of Ireland has one of the highest suicide rates in the world.

In 2018 the average standardised rate of suicide for Northern Ireland was 18.6 per 100,000, compared with 10.3 per 100,000. 

Since 2000, deaths by suicide among men have risen by a staggering 63%.

The links between poverty, inequality and suicide have been well evidenced and are borne out by the fact that in deprived communities such as North and West Belfast the rate of suicide is 3.5 times higher than other areas.

In response to this, the Department of Health and health agencies have introduced a suicide prevention strategy – Protect Life 2 - with a shockingly low target of 10% reduction in deaths over 5 years.

Based on the yearly average rate of deaths by suicide in recent years this target would mean only 6 fewer deaths a year.

This target was not consulted upon by the Department of Health and despite their Section 75, NI Act (1998) statutory obligations, takes no account of the much greater rates of suicide in deprived areas.

The allocated budget Protect Life 2 of £10.35 million for 2019/20 equates to just 0.2% of the health budget.

In September, the Chief Medical Officer Dr. Micheal McBride stated that ‘there is no bigger public health challenge (than suicide)’ however the response from health authorities has been ‘more of the same’.  

As a public health strategy designed to address preventable deaths, Protect Life 2 is entirely out of synch with other aspects of government business that also have preventable deaths as their focus.  For example, targets for fire emergency responses is 72% while the target for childhood immunisations is 95%. (include infographic)

#123GP emergency proposals

Counselling is known to be an effective intervention for people struggling with their mental health and for those experiencing suicidal thoughts.

However, research by #123GP campaign has uncovered that access to counselling through GP practices is a ‘post-code lottery’, with people in some areas waiting several months for an initial appointment.

Treatment offered is limited to an average of 6 sessions, which in most cases is inadequate.

Unlike access to other health treatments, there are no official targets attached to counselling waiting times and monitoring and oversight is seriously lacking.

The budget attached to counselling is a fraction of what is required.

As first steps in improving access to counselling #123GP campaigners have called for an immediate doubling of funding for counselling to clear waiting lists, followed by the introduced of a waiting time target.

Beyond that they have called for an urgent review to place counselling provision on a sound financial footing.

#123GP campaigners have presented this evidence alongside proposed solutions to the relevant health authorities - only to be ignored.

Despite securing the support of health professionals, all political parties as well as the health authorities have failed to even engage seriously with the modest proposals.

As a result, campaigners felt that they are now left with no other options but to find ways to make the PHA and other health agencies sit up and listen.

#123GP members are determined to escalate their actions until the health authorities take the necessary action and ensure that every single person who is struggling with their mental health or experiencing suicidal thoughts has timely access to quality counselling as a treatment option.


For more information on the #123GP campaign click on these links

  1. Read more about the campaign here https://bit.ly/2FlVd8q and on social media @123GPCampaign or Facebook Mental Health Rights Campaign
  2. Download your own version of the campaign gift tag to distribute everywhere you can here
  3. Read #123GP’s report here ‘Counselling –A Vital Tool in Equipping GPs with Mental Health Expertise
  4. Alarm Bells (to the tune of Jingle Bells)

Alarm Bells, Alarm Bells, Ringing everywhere

Suicide’s a crisis here, Do you really care?

Oh! PHA, PHA, This is why we’re here

Your target of 10 per cent saves just 6 lives a year

You need to re-invest, and counselling is best

But people can wait month for this And it’s costing them their lives

You need to act right now, we need to hear you say

One death is still too many, say it loud and clear


Counselling, counselling, can help to save lives

Waiting times are far too long, bring in targets now!


Counselling, counselling, can help to save lives

Waiting times are far too long, bring in targets now!