More than 200 suicides were recorded in Northern Ireland during the first nine months of 2012, it has been revealed.
Dr Elizabeth Mitchell told the Stormont health committee that coroners had registered 223 deaths by suicide between January and September last year.
Socially deprived areas in north and west Belfast were particularly affected.
Dr Mitchell, from the Department of Health, said: "It is young to middle-aged men living in deprived areas.
"There are stark differences between men in deprived areas from 15 to the mid-50s and other areas.
"It is also much higher than all the other groups."
The scrutiny committee was being briefed on the Protect Life Strategy which aims to tackle the problem of suicide and mental health awareness.
Health officials also revealed that during the last nine months of 2012, there were 159 suspected suicides.
Dr Mitchell said the figures had been derived from a new sudden death notification system which was implemented in April.