Suicide prevention: radical change needed

10 January 2017

Alongside the mammoth mental health announcment made by Theresa May yesterday was the overlooked publication of an update of the 2012 suicide prevention strategy.

This is a timely publication, given the scope of the problem revealed during the Health Select Committee inquiry to improve suicide prevention in England late last year.

The strategy has been expanded to include self-harm prevention in its own right. It ensures every local area is responsible for producing a multi-agency suicide prevention plan; improving suicide bereavement support; improving data at both the national and local levels; and importantly targeting suicide prevention and help-seeking in high-risk groups.  It is hoped this will help to effectively reduce the high numbers of suicides taking place in England.

Suicide: key stats

  • In 2015, 6,188 were recorded in the UK.
  • Of these, 75% were males and 25% were females.
  • Suicide is the most common cause of death for males aged 20-49 years in England and Wales.
  • 1 in 15 adults in the UK have made a suicide attempt at some point in their life.

Radical change needed

The Foundation is the leading UK public mental health organisation, with a core prevention agenda. To achieve this, we believe there is a real need for radical change to the ways current structures tackle mental health issues across the UK, including tackling suicide.

Last year's Mental Health Taskforce was an important first step toward prioritising suicide prevention, and the updates to the suicide prevention strategy are a concrete follow up. But it only goes so far in addressing the mental health inequity being experienced by vulnerable and excluded groups, who are often poorly served by services and rely heavily on the community and voluntary sector.

The updated strategy shows the UK Government are finally recognising that more can and needs to be done to ensure early distress is identified to enable early intervention for those struggling now, but we need to do better on prevention in those settings where mental health can initially be protected or put at risk, especially for young people given that 75% of mental health problems emerge by the age of 24.

Homes and schools

Approaches in the family home and in schools, for instance, can tackle family stress, abuse, bullying and high expectations placed on young people. By doing this, it's possible to prevent the development or escalation of mental health problems that can sometimes spiral into self-harm and suicide.

We must prioritise prevention strategies, even in the face of austerity and challenge. If we don't, this will only lead to unmanageable demand for services in future. This serious investment in future generations will create a more mentally healthy and compassionate society where people don’t feel this level of despair and hopelessness.

We hope the reiterated commitment to mental health and suicide prevention from Jeremy Hunt and Theresa May will see an inclusive public mental health approach being taken to preventing suicide and preventing mental health problems more widely. This approach must target people of all ages. It must consider the social, economic, cultural and environmental determinants of mental health. And it must emphasise social inclusion and involvement, rights, equalities and citizenship.

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