By Dr William McCrea - 25th April 2012
Suicide is a major public health problem which presents a complex and deeply concerning challenge for all sectors of society.
Nearly 1 million people worldwide die by suicide each year – that is more than all the wars that take place around the world. Every year there can be between ten million and 20 million suicide attempts, making suicide the 8th leading cause of death in males and the 16th leading cause of death in females.
These statistics are most prevalent amongst teenage boys aged 15-19 years and men of 20-24 years of age. The devastation it creates makes it a concerning public health issue.
Children and young people are increasingly using online mediums as part of their everyday lives, whether it is to gain information or to communicate with friends and the wider cyber community. Whilst this important resource is to be respected, there are, however, websites and chat rooms which can encourage the vulnerable, the lonely and the depressed to consider taking their own lives.
A report by the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People into Children's Rights in 2008 found that the internet offers many great opportunities for children and young people and is in many ways a positive thing.
However, the Commissioner also stated: “It is imperative that adequate online safeguards are put in place to minimise the risk and ensure the protection of children and young people. A key difficulty in respect to this is the multitude of providers responsible for aspects of the online community and the fact that most of these providers operate within the private commercial market.
While some providers have responded positively to calls to take action to minimise risks to children and introduced safeguards on their sites, others have failed to do so thereby continuing to expose children and young people to a myriad of unknown risks. A further difficulty is the fact that the internet does not confirm to national boundaries and the consequent need for a comprehensive coordinated international effort to ensure adequate protection of children and young people when using the web”.
Knowledge of the problem, however, is not enough. Although there have been welcome developments in relation to the online protection of children and young people, more is required. Organisations such as PIPS, based in Belfast, who dedicate time and effort to helping to reduce the numbers of suicide and cases of self harm, believe that a gate keeper or guardian should be in place to monitor websites and that a complaints procedure should also be in place.
When certain terms are used to access information regarding suicide or self harm, a pop up should appear informing the individual of the help and support that is available. Depression, suicide and self harm are issues that do not discriminate. It is an issue for everyone, an issue that touches whole families and entire communities. I believe that today’s bill represents a significant step in addressing a complex issue that devastates too many families and claims too many young lives.
Dr William McCrea is DUP MP for South Antrim.