Northern Ireland’s Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle O’Neill has said that the provision of a dedicated suicide prevention officer in rural areas will help those most in need and raise awareness of mental health issues.

The Minister met with the Niamh Louise Foundation to award them with a grant of £10,000 (€11,680) from her Department’s Rural Challenge Programme 2012 to help deliver their “Breaking the Silence” project. The grant will fund a Suicide Prevention Officer to work in the rural areas of Mid-Ulster where social isolation may prevent members of the community seeking help.

The Rural Challenge Programme 2012 is one element of DARD’s Tackling Rural Poverty and Social Isolation Framework. The Programme is designed to support local communities with the delivery of a specific project through the provision of a small grant from DARD.

O’Neill said: “We are all too aware of the frightening statistics regarding suicide and self-harm in our rural areas. By raising awareness of mental health issues, and providing a dedicated suicide prevention officer, I have no doubt that Niamh Louise Foundation’s project will mean that for those who may suffer in silence, they will now have the opportunity to break that silence and find the help and support they need.”

Mrs Catherine McBennett, Operational Director of the Niamh Louise Foundation, added: “It is so important that the government listen to the real needs of the community at ground level. Minister O’Neill has taken the time on many occasions to visit our centre, to meet with the community and listen to the needs of the rural people. This funding will help the Foundation concentrate on suicide prevention by having a suicide prevention officer working on the ground to meet the specific needs of the rural community.”

Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle O’Neill is pictured with Grainne O’Neill, Assistant Manager and  Catherine McBennett, Operational Director of the Niamh Louise Foundation.