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‘Suicide epidemic among Omagh youth’ warning

MEASURES that have been put in place by government departments to improve the mental health of young people in the Omagh area are not preventing an “epidemic” of suicide, a local councillor has warned.

At the latest monthly meeting of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, independent member, Dr Jo Deehan acknowledged that there had been considerable investment in mental health services for young people locally.

Referring to correspondence received by the council from the Department of Health Permanent Secretary, Richard Pengelly, Dr Deehan said that over £8.7m had been spent regionally, with £1.47m invested in the Western Trust area.

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The GP said, “He also makes the point that it’s not just the responsibility of the Department of Health, and I would agree with that.”

Dr Deehan warned that there was, at present, an “epidemic” of suicide among local young people.

“I think this is a matter of such seriousness that I do feel it merits further exploration as to why these measures, this investment, has not been working,” she told the meeting.

The independent councillor proposed asking representatives from the three government departments of health, education and justice to come together for a meeting “to discuss their various initiatives and why we haven’t seen them bear fruit to date”.

Seconding her proposal, Sinn Féin’s Barry McElduff argued that a continued focus would need to be kept on the issue, not just a “one-off intervention or visit”.

Mr McElduff raised his concerns over the level and extent of counselling services available to children and young people locally.

The Omagh town councillor told the meeting that, within the last two weeks, he had been contacted by a local family who were making a “cry for help”.

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“It’s around a teenage member of their family who is getting into trouble and risks a criminal record at the age of 15, when it is actually a cry for help,” Mr McElduff said.

One of the phrases that struck the councillor upon speaking to the family was that they asked if the wrong person was going to be convicted.

Highlighting the lack of availability of counselling services, he said, “That could be the crime as opposed to the young person crying for help.

“I would strongly recommend that we have ongoing engagement with Health, Education and Justice, and that we include the Education Authority in that dialogue as well.”

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