Published Wednesday, 31 October 2012
Health Minister Edwin Poots has said the service has saved lives. (© Pacemaker)
The 24-hour Lifeline provides immediate help from experienced counsellors and can arrange therapies like reflexology or refer clients to other services like social workers.
The service operates as part of the Department of Health's Suicide Prevention Strategy.
Lifeline helped decrease psychological upset in many cases and an evaluation for the Department of Health said most people had heard of it and accepted there was a need for it.
But the report said "issues were highlighted in relation to some people leaving the service still in severe distress".
The evaluation also said there were issues about the management of frequent callers and a need to look at the threshold of risk assessment for onward referral.
The 130-page Protect Life Evaluation Report for the department highlighted the continued importance of frontline services in helping those in serious emotional distress.
It said long-term reduction of suicide required wide-ranging work addressing underlying social issues that contribute to increased risk.
Key evaluation recommendations said more evidence on the impact of Lifeline is needed and suicide prevention should be contained within a wider range of departmental strategies, while there is a need to refresh government and accountability structures.
Health Minister Edwin Poots said: "Despite my department having invested over £32m in suicide prevention since 2006, the suicide rate has not fallen over this period."
This is not something that my department can tackle in isolation. We need to think innovatively about what more we can do across Government and the community to reduce the rate of suicide in our community.
"However, I have no doubt that lives have been saved and that a range of adverse social factors have impeded efforts to reduce the number of deaths," he added.
"We will continue to strive against suicide, taking into account the lessons learned from this evaluation in order to focus efforts where they will have the greatest impact."
The Minister said that continued engagement is vital in shaping future policy and that a more streamlined action plan was needed as well as a wider focus by assembly strategies to tackle suicide.
The report found that 72% of people had heard of the Lifeline helpline and 96% said there was a need for it.
It recorded that levels of psychological distress significantly decreased for clients between the first and final sessions and people attending counselling were significantly more likely to show improvement using psychological measures compared with those using complementary therapy.
The suicide rate in Northern Ireland is higher than the UK as a whole and the highest in the UK.
Suicide increased by 64% between 1999 and 2008, mostly as a result in the rise of suicides amongst young men.
In 2010, 77% of all suicides in Northern Ireland were male, 40.5% of all suicides were in the age group 15-34 and 42% were in the age group 35-54.
Lifeline telephone: 0808 808 8000
The trend for male suicides in Northern Ireland has fluctuated over the last ten years, but overall has shown an increase over time whereas the female rates for suicide have remained more stable.