The number of people taking their own lives in Northern Ireland jumped by almost 50% in the last five years, shocking new statistics reveal.

The figures, published by the Public Initiative for the Prevention of Suicide and Self Harm (PIPS), show that since 2005 the number of people dying by suicide has risen from 213 to 313 last year - a 47% increase.

And while some years have shown a reduction in the death rates, on the whole there has been a steady rise in the number of people taking their own lives.

The alarming statistics emerged as PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott visited the charity's offices in north Belfast yesterday.

PIPS founder Phil McTaggart described the figures as "unbelievable".

He said: "I don't know why the figures are going up. This is an area where there needs to be research. Maybe the message is getting lost somewhere. We have deprivation, unemployment, poverty and (lack of) access to education are all risk factors in the whole issue.

"We need to look at this in the same way we look at road deaths and the way we have brought death rates down. We need to do the same in relation to this issue.

"If we had 313 people dying on our roads we would have people saying we need to do something about it. There needs to be an inter-departmental approach to this problem. Suicide is a serious business and everyone has a part to play in preventing suicide."

In total 1,288 have taken their own lives in Northern Ireland between 2005 and 2009, with 218 from north and west Belfast alone.

The suicide prevention worker described Mr Baggott's visit to his offices as "brilliant".

The Chief Constable welcomed the opportunity to visit the PIPS project. During the tour of the project he discussed training programmes that would help officers deal with people thinking about taking their own lives, or with bereaved families.

He said: "Every suicide is a tragedy and with over 300 in Northern Ireland last year alone, it is an issue that needs addressed by all of society. Policing is about protecting the vulnerable and we as a service have a responsibility to play our part to the fullest."


Suicide deaths:

2005: 213

2006: 291 - 37% increase

2007: 242 - 17% decrease

2008: 282 - 17% increase

2009: 260 - 8% decrease

2010 (provisional): 313 - 20% increase