THE number of local people calling for emergency help following overdoses, suicide attempts or mental health problems is more than eight times higher than it was five years ago.
Figures released to the Leader from the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service show they have taken 206 calls on such issues this year to date, up from just 24 in the year 2007-2008.
The district takes in Banbridge, Dromore, Dromara, Rathfriland, Loughbrickland and Laurencetown.
In total over the past five years 694 calls have been made by or on behalf of people who have experienced psychiatric problems, abnormal behaviour, attempted suicide, overdosed or become poisoned.
The Fort area of Banbridge - which takes in the Cline Road, Highfield Gardens, the Limes and the Grange as well as other streets - had 118 calls, the highest in the district since 2007. The Cut followed with 100 calls in the past five years.
The figures do not come as a surprise to community worker Paul Clissold, although he says they highlight the critical need for funding to address the issues.
“As a community we know there have been various incidents here,” he told the Leader. “There has been a problem with drugs in the past but we have really tried to address that.
“These figures are of great concern to us. There are pockets of social deprivation in the area and there are all sorts of issues associated with that from unemployment to drugs.”
Mr Clissold, formerly a Community Development Officer who now acts as a volunteer, said those in the community have taken great strides to improve the area, but have been hampered since funding was axed last year.
“We have developed self-help groups and the community are really good at pulling together, but we need funding to continue this work.
“We had our application to the Community Relations Council rejected but we are trying for more from other organisations. That is our main problem at the minute - we need the funding to continue our work to tackle this problem.”
A health professional working in the Southern Trust area said there is a wide variety of reasons someone might attempt suicide or take an overdose - but drugs have become an increasingly troublesome issue.
“In recent years we have seen an increase in the number of people presenting after having taken drugs, and new types of substance abuse,” said the health worker.
“And you find the same people coming to you time and time again. Those who abuse illicit substances in the long-term can end up in a drug-induced psychosis where they have disturbed sleep, hear voices, become paranoid or delusional and so on.
“There are other reasons too of course and increasingly we have seen people telling us they have lost their jobs and maybe their family has broken up as a result or they have found times tough during the recession.”
The health professional was keen to point out that not everyone admitted on the grounds of mental health issues will have attempted suicide.
“Not everyone who calls an ambulance will have intended to kill themselves,” they said. “People can present after having had thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
“Others might have long-standing personality disorders and be on medication.”
For helpful advice on matters relating to mental health call Protect Life in Banbridge on 07988388911 or Lifeline on 0808 808 8000.