"Since launch of the BCSS in August 2013 the following progress has been made including:
i) Live interview on 3 December 2013 with Rowan Hand on Destination Newry, a local online tv station in Newry
ii) Creation of website in October 2013 at www.philipokeeffe.com to make educational materials about human suicidal behaviour more widely available [incl my doctoral study (2010) on aftermath of suicide for clinicians bereaved by client/patient suicide and an occasional blog] and to report BCSS progress
iii) Short course in October 2013 on 'Insights into Suicide' at QUB School of Education - Open Learning Programme (for info re next course in May/June 2014 contact - QUB website or Senior Teaching Fellow - Dr Tess McGuiness)
iv) Interview in November 2013 with Naomi Long MP and Chris Lyttle MLA
v) Publication of several short articles on suicide-related themes in 'Mind Matters' column of "The Irish News" - archived hereon
vi) Interview in March 2014 with Prof S O'Neill, Bamford Centre, Ulster University, Derry
vii) Interview in March 2014 with Fr M Magill PP Sacred Heart Parish Belfast
viii) Renewal of registration/accreditation with British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) in Feb 2014
ix) Participation in several seminars incl a) on 27 February 2014 'Man Matters' (Dr Iain Banks; Dr Barry Goldman; at Crum Road Gaol) and b) SPRC online webinar in March 2014 on 'men in the middle years and suicide' - Dr Eric D Caine presented an alternative suicide prevention paradigm at this event that recognises, but goes well beyond ASIST and the like
x) Attendance at NCB/NAIMH/NIPHA seminar in October 2013 'Down but not out - youth depression and suicide' (Dr Ian Mannion, Canada) at Skainos Centre, Belfast
xi) Completion in November 2013 of 2-day course in Belfast for counsellors/psychotherapists in gay affirmative therapy training
xii) Completion in Nov 2013 of application by Belfast Centre for Study of Suicide seeking status as a 'company limited by guarantee', preliminary to registration as charitable institution with Inland Revenue.
I received DHSSPS's response on 24 March 2014. This referred me to the websites for DHSSPS, Public Health Agency and the Assembly Health Committee.
On 25 March 2014, I sent a preparatory note to Kieran McCarthy MLA, setting out discussion points for a proposed meeting. Dr W Farry asked me for "your views on the ... study of suicide". I replied as follows:
"Dr Farry asks about "my views on . . . the study of suicide". My views are clear: it would be very good if opportunities to 'study suicide' existed via colleges/universities here. I do not know regarding curricula what the universities offer in relation to suicidology. I suspect (but do not know for certain) that short occupational modules are available for some medical/legal specialisms. (I exclude my short courses at QUB School of Education Open Learning Pgm. as these sessions amount to 'tasters' only.) I know from personal contacts that a number of discrete postgraduate research studies in suicidology are likely to be in progress at any time in both universities. However I am not aware of an agreed suicidology research agenda for either N Ireland or Ireland.
"Complex barriers to progress (i.e. reduction in incidence of suicidal behaviour in N Ireland/Ireland) include:
a) absence of courses of study at 'A' level (college) or undergraduate (university) level
b) relative silence from our coroners
c) unhelpful sensationalist reporting by print / broadcast media, caused in part by lack of access to relevant knowledge base, and that often contravenes IAS/Samaritans' Media Guidelines for Reporting Suicide (2013),
d) bureaucratic 'shambles' [i.e. labyrinth] involving DHSSPS Health Improvement Policy Unit, Public Health Agency, Health and Social Care Board, HSC Trusts, Suicide Prevention Strategy 'Protect Life' Implementation Group(s), publicly funded support groups/charities, and professionals across several occupational disciplines.
e) unaccredited training courses offered by support groups/charities, that produce an under-qualified volunteer resource
f) gross imbalance between 'economic costs of suicide' and 'level of planned public investment in suicidology'
g) linked to d) above, efficacy of an internal 'suicide prevention programme' delivered by HSC in liaison with the DHSSPS; and
h) excessive dependence by DHSSPS upon 'internationally recognised expert academics' in preference to indigenous expertise ('prophet in his own land' syndrome)
"There are many more.
"What's beyond criticism of course is the sincerity, commitment and compassion of volunteers, professionals, public servants, educationalists and the political class involved in suicidology, in N Ireland/Ireland. Unfortunately this is clearly not sufficient to contend with suicide's attrition which continues to kill someone every day in N Ireland and twice as many in Ireland (RoI), in total probably in excess of 1,000 N Irish/ Irish souls every year."
At the above-mentioned subsequent meeting with Kieran McCarthy, MLA on 27 March 2014, I asked Dr W Farry for information about the reporting/accountability relationships that linked these three organisations with the Health Minister specifically in relation to suicide prevention / practice / operations but have had no response over two weeks later.
On a positive note, DHSSPS's response (24 March 2014) advised me that "20 workshops ... led by 'Protect Life' Implement Groups ... between Dec 2013 and Feb 2014" were held. These were (apparently) advertised in 'local press'. Unfortunately I missed these advts and was therefore unable to participate. However, DHSSPS have promised to let me have 'a summary report' of the workshops' responses. I've not yet received this. DHSSPS plan to engage with 'a small group (unnamed) of internationally recognised expert academics' (but see h) above) before issuing the new 'Protect Life' strategy for consultation.
Final note for now. I submitted a 1,200 word article to the Irish Association of Suicidology on 28 Feb 2014 for their newsletter. This attempted to summarise Dr Eric D Caine's hypothesis for suicide prevention that he introduced during an SPRC webinar (11 March 2014) - see ix) above. I plan to upload this work to this site's archive shortly, along with a related draft article prepared for 'Mind Matters' ("The Irish News") column.
All best til next time. Feel free to send your comments via the Contact section of the website.