In 2006, Lyra McKee was a member of the Belfast office of Headliners (previously known as Children's Express). At the time she wrote an article discussing the problem of suicide in Northern Ireland and how there was not enough being done to help prevent the epidemic.

Lyra, who was only 16 at the time, entered the article to the national 'Sky Young Reporter of the Year' competition and won against stiff competition.  When asked how she felt she said "I was in shock! I couldn't believe it cause i'd been up against so much competition, against university students in Journalism and I really didn't think i was going to get the end of the day, practical experience in journalism is unbeatable".

As a tribute to Lyra we are re-posting her award winning article below.

Once synonymous with sectarian warfare, Northern Ireland is now credited in the media with being the 'suicidal capital of Europe' and Belfast the epicentre. Whilst natives do not deny that the suicide rates in their country are spiralling beyond control, many insist that the figures are not a reflection of their community, but more of authorities ill equipped to deal with the sudden influx of people seeking psychiatric treatment. But is this still an accurate assessment of the mental health services in Northern Ireland, or is there more going on within the six counties than perhaps their residents realise?

A known factor contributing to depression, which if untreated, frequently leads to suicide, are the influences of alcohol and drugs. Youth clubs which have often been established to deter the over-11 age group from using these two vices are not entirely succeeding in fulfilling their remit. Many of the young people wishing to attend them are banned from entry because of bad behaviour. One sixteen-year-old girl Arlene (not her real name) found herself and friends in this situation. She says, "No youth club wants us, there is nothing else to do, no where for us to go, and that is what leads us to drink and drugs and eventually for many people to suicide". She also says that it was 'drink and drugs' that contributed to the premature death, by suicide, of a close friend, who could not cope with their side effects; namely paranoia and insecurity.

Community workers cannot solely be held responsible for the suicide epidemic amongst teens in N.I. But who is accountable for the number of adults who have taken their lives in the past three years.

Despite part of their job requiring them to provide a safe sanctuary from the streets, youth workers cannot permit youngsters who have been drinking alcohol or abusing solvents into youth clubs, even though they are more of a danger to themselves and others outside and unsupervised, than they are controlled and inside the premises. This, says North Belfast youth worker Wayne Murphy, puts those in his profession in an impossible position, "It can be hard. There's only so much we can do, like putting on projects they [local young people] will enjoy. We can't permit young people under the influence of alcohol and drugs in here; it's not good practice".

Community workers cannot solely be held responsible for the suicide epidemic amongst teens in N.I. But who is accountable for the number of adults who have taken their lives in the past three years.

When Declan McCluskey, a 32-year-old charity worker for St Vincent de Paul in Belfast, committed suicide in May of last year, his mother Theresa told local newspapers, "There is not enough being done [to tackle suicide]. Definitely not in districts like here in Liginiel, Ardoyne and Oldpark where it seems to be happening all the time". Declan's older brother Frank, committed suicide 9 years previously, which made it a double blow for the family.

Following Mr McClusky's death, the ninth suicide in three months in one square mile area of Belfast alone, suicide prevention agencies revealed that those being referred to a counsellor are waiting up to three months for an appointment. Similar scenarios have been seen right across the mental health services available throughout Northern Ireland. N.I Health Minister Shaun Woodward recently ordered an independent review into the death of 18-year-old Danny McCartan, who upon asking to be admitted into hospital because he felt suicidal, was told that no beds were available. Later that night, he was found hanging in a derelict house.

Article by Lyra McKee, 16 (2006)

Lyra McKee was killed last year in Derry/Londonderry on the 18th April 2019. She was a previous participant of Headliners in Belfast (formerly known as Children's Express) and more recently a trustee of Headliners (UK).

You can read more of her Headliners stories here.

The photo accompanying this article was taken of her, fellow Headliners members and staff of the Belfast office at the time she was a member. Photo credit Drew Mickhael @DrDrewMikhael