Suicides in Great Britain: response to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics

7 September 2017

New figures from the Office for National Statistics show that in Great Britain there were 3.4% fewer suicides registered in 2016 compared to 2015. 5,668 people ended their own lives in 2016, compared to 5,870 in 2015. Suicide has a devastating impact on families and communities, and it is welcome news that fewer individuals have been driven to take this fatal, final decision.

While the overall trend is positive, the figures show significant variation. The rates of suicide among children and young people rose 2%, in contrast with the average trend across age groups. We urgently need to uncover the reasons for this, with a key focus on the pressure that young people are under.

There was also significant variation across different parts of the UK. The rate of suicides in England has fallen significantly, while it fell slightly in Wales and there was a small, but troubling, rise in Scotland. In England, the south-west had the highest suicide rate (at 11.2 per 100,000 people), whilst the lowest rate was in London (7.8 per 100,000 people).

These regional variations speak to the fact that suicide is not just an individual decision, but affected by a complex set of factors at community and society level. Research from Samaritans shows that areas of higher socioeconomic levels of deprivation have significantly higher levels of suicide. Men in the lowest social class and living in the most deprived areas are up to ten times more at risk than those who are in the highest social class and live in the most affluent areas.

The regional differences also speak to the action that can be taken at local level to prevent suicide. Local suicide prevention plans will be crucial for tackling the issues we know to be factors in suicide deaths, and especially for supporting disadvantaged groups who are at greatest risk.  

It is essential that these prevention plans are carried out to a high standard, and we back the Health Select Committee's call for robust quality assurance of the plans, and oversight of their effective implementation. It should be mandatory for local plans to include support for families bereaved by suicide, who face increased risks of suicide from within their families having suffered one bereavement.

Jenny Edwards CBE, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation said:

"There is still much work to do, but the fall in number of suicides over the past year demonstrates that positive action can be effective in reducing the numbers of deaths by suicide. Today, the Mental Health Foundation launched an action plan to tackle Scotland's suicide rates. Knowing that positive action can be taken to reduce suicide rates strengthens our resolve to prevent mental distress and suicide in every community, across the whole of the UK."

If you are in distress or despair, or you are having suicidal thoughts, phone Samaritans on 116 123 (UK); 116 123 (ROI); text 07725 90 90 90 or email jo@samaritans.org.