CIMS 2005 Annual Conference

Seven Branch members from SWt John's attended the CIMS Annual Conference which was held in Greenmount College, Muckamore on Saturday 24 September 2005. It was preceded by a service of Holy Communion in St Jude's Church, Muckamore.

The conference itself focused on the twin themes of drug and alcohol misuse and suicide and self-harm among young people. Delegates heard about the levels of widespread human distress being experienced in both urban and rural communities in Northern Ireland and the high incidence of despair, suicide and self harming behaviour occurring in all sections of the community.

 Members of the Society were particularly shocked to hear that the number of deaths by suicide in Northern Ireland exceeds each year the number of fatalities occasioned by road traffic accidents.


One of the speakers at the conference, John McClure (Irish Church Missions) spoke about the 'Public Initiative for the Prevention of Suicide and Self-Harm' (PIPS). He stated that there was an average of 152 deaths by suicide every year in Northern Ireland and that of the 1.6 million people in Northern Ireland, 80,000 will have thought of suicide at some point.  


Exploding some of the myths surrounding suicidal behaviour, Mr McClure said that such behaviour indicated deep unhappiness and a high level of hopelessness, but not necessarily mental illness, as is frequently assumed. It can happen to anybody and, although it is commonly believed that those intent on suicide are least likely to speak of it, in fact, most people who have died by suicide have talked to others about it in the recent past.


People frequently ask about the indicators that someone may be considering suicide. Mr McClure said these include:

  • a previous suicide attempt

  •  currently expressing suicidal thoughts or a sense of hopelessness  

  •  preoccupation with death 

  •  depression 

  •  becoming isolated

  •  expressing feelings of being alone and having no one to help them

  •  increase or change in drugs/alcohol or substance use

  • giving away prized possessions

  • sudden changes in mood / behaviour  

The following speaker, Malcolm Emery, Development Director of  Rural Support, a rural family support programme that has run since 2001, heads the Loughry College based unit with a team of 17 volunteers.

The programme provides a range of services, one of which is a direct support for those experiencing mental or emotional difficulties. "Rural suicide is an issue," said Mr Emery. "Farm families are under tremendous pressure. Families need help to cope with change, particularly emotional support.

"Mr Emery told the society that a more proactive approach was needed, with more open communication with those at risk. There was a need to develop a collaborative approach between groups offering support.


The aim of the conference was to raise awareness of these pressing issues across the Church of Ireland and to signal the commitment of the Church of Ireland to undertaking specific initiatives in this whole field.  

"Rapidly increasing drug and alcohol misuse (including the misuse of prescription drugs) and high rates of suicide among young men are major social issues in both rural and urban settings in Ireland" said Bishop Alan Harper, chairman of the society.  The Society registers its deep disquiet at this situation and particularly at the totally inadequate levels of financial support made available by government to address the situation. Particular concern was expressed on learning of the complete lack of statutory provision of psychiatric services for 14 to 18 year old young people in Northern Ireland.

 The Society wishes to express support and admiration for the work of PIPS and Rural Support and recommends that the work of these organisations and others working in the same field be made more widely known.

 It further recommends that Church of Ireland dioceses consider the provision of special training to enable the creation of a pool of expertise within the Church to provide information and. support for clergy and lay people confronting manifestations of distress that may result in self-harming behaviour.  


After the conference members had an opportunity to visit the Millenium Walled Garden, the location of a recent gardening series on television