ERNE North Councillor Raymond Farrell says the subject of suicide remains one of the "most challenging issues" facing today's society and believes more emphasis must be placed on early years intervention.

Mr Farrell, who has experience of working in the field of mental health locally, states that more people die from suicide in Northern Ireland than of cancer or heart disease.

"It is awful that people feel that taking their life is the only solution to the particular difficulties they face. The impact on the loved ones left behind cannot be measured and we must never forget them as they seek to move on with their own lives in what in so many cases can be a difficult journey." He says it is important to recognise the "good work" that is being done in the area by statutory and voluntary agencies.

"Without their timely intervention the suicide rate could have been much worse. There are many people in the county who owe their lives to the intervention, support and guidance of health care workers and others who took the time to get involved, such as family and friends." Mr Farrell wants to see a greater effort in building an "emotional and social resilience" in the community and added: "This is not solely a department of health issue. I believe it involves all government departments and voluntary agencies working together to promote good mental health. Even basic training of teachers, youth leaders and the clergy, whom are often the first point of contact in recognising that something is wrong.

"Everyone must learn to watch for early warning signs and have the necessary skills to know what to do or whom to seek advice from.

"This is becoming more and more essential," said Mr Farrell, who wants to see more mental health workers based in local health centres as a point of contact.

"There is a need for more emphasis on greater investment in psychological therapies. Northern Ireland has not had the same level of investment in health as England and this is a matter our Executive at Stormont must keep on the radar." He added: "It is important to emphasis that help is available for people in distress and that skilled and empathic people are available to talk to. I would urge anyone who feels they need to talk to someone to do so."