The British government is to spend nearly £2 million to help deal with the increasing problem of suicide in Northern Ireland.

213 people took their own lives in Northern Ireland in 2005, 67 more than in 2004. This represents an increase of almost 50%.

The north and west Belfast areas in particular have seen a number of suicides among young people; voluntary initiatives have been taken to set up counselling and other services.

Northern Ireland's Health Minister Shaun Woodward said the increase was shocking and made the need to tackle the issue even more urgent.

Mr Woodward's department is to spend almost £2 million setting up a suicide prevention strategy called 'Project Life'. It was compiled following the recommendations of a report involving voluntary and statutory agencies and families in Northern Ireland who have lost loved ones to suicide.

The Health Minister said his department would be in contact with its counterparts in Dublin to ensure more cross-border co-ordination in dealing with suicide and other issues of mental health.