On Monday the 11th of September, the UK Government announced the launch of a new national 5-year strategy to reduce suicide rates.
This policy has an ambitious target of reducing national suicide rates within two and a half years. But how much by? And how do they intend to do this?
Reducing the rates
Up until 2018, the number of suicides in England was dropping year on year. However this decrease has stalled, and whilst numbers have not significantly increased, they have not reduced either. Currently there are over 5,000 deaths by suicide each year in England alone. Men are around three times more likely to take their life than women and rates of suicide among young people are increasing.
Rather than state a target number that they want to reach, this new cross-governmental strategy simply states that it is aiming to reduce the number of lives lost to suicide.
Specifically it’s aims are:
- To reduce the suicide rate over the next 5 years – with initial reductions observed within half this time or sooner;
- Improve support for people who have self-harmed;
- Improve support for people bereaved by suicide.
How do they intend to do this?
The strategy sets out 131 actions to be implemented or led by different government departments. These actions fall into eight different areas:
- Providing tailored and targeted support to priority groups
- For example, a £10 million Suicide Prevention Grant has been established to support non-profit, voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations deliver suicide prevention services.
- Encouraging employers, including in largely male industries, to have adequate and appropriate support in place for employees – including, for example, people trained in mental health first aid, mental health support and suicide prevention awareness.
- Addressing risk factors
- For example, improving suicide prevention signposting and support to people in contact with primary care services, including those receiving care for physical ill health.
- Tackling means and methods of suicide
- For example, exploring if regulatory change is required on the quantities of sales of paracetamol.
- Providing timely and effective bereavement support
- For example, bereavement support training for British Transport Police officers who may be the first point of contact for bereaved families.
- Online safety, media and technology
- For example, collaborating with Samaritans to support the media to understand and act on evolving issues in suicide prevention.
- Testing digital therapeutics which can reduce suicidal ideation and behaviours in the short and long term.
- Providing effective and appropriate crisis support
- An investment of £150 million to improve crisis support available through NHS England.
- Including introducing crisis text lines nationwide.
- Procuring specialised mental health ambulances.
- Investing in infrastructure schemes including alternatives to A&E such as crisis cafes.
- Improving data and evidence
- For example, a new suicide surveillance system developed by the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities to improve early detection in suicide rates or trends.
- Funding research looking at which interventions aimed at groups at high risk of suicide and suicide attempts are effective.
- Conducting and commissioning new research and data linkage projects, including projects to better understand incidences of suicide following a bereavement, links between the cost of living and suicide, and trends in suicide rates in different occupational groups.
- Making suicide prevention everyone’s business
- For example, a continuation of the suicide and self-harm prevention training for prison and probation staff.
- Working in partnership to deliver suicide intervention training for railway staff.
You can read all of the actions in the report here.
“The strategy must be fully funded, with sufficient resources for local councils to take action in their communities to prevent tragic losses of life.”
Andy Bell, Chief Executive of the Centre for Mental Health
How is this different to what was being done before?
The last preventions strategy which was published in 2012 took a very similar, although less detailed approach, and had six ‘areas for action’ as opposed to the eight above.
These six areas for action were:
- Reduce the risk of suicide in key high-risk groups;
- Tailor approaches to improve mental health in specific groups;
- Reduce access to means of suicide;
- Provide better information and support to those bereaved or affected by suicide;
- Support the media in delivering sensitive approaches to suicide and suicidal behaviour;
- Support research, data collection and monitoring.
How were these new actions decided on?
Last year the government put out a mental health call for evidence. This public call allowed for organisations like MQ to submit evidence to the government who then used this to set their priorities for action.
This suicide strategy states that “The actions and priorities in this strategy have been informed by evidence, data and engagement with people with expertise in suicide prevention. This includes people with personal experience, researchers, and those involved in the planning and delivery of services. NSPSAG has provided invaluable advice and expertise throughout.
The responses to our engagement exercises, such as the mental health call for evidence, roundtable discussions and many ongoing discussions with experts, have helped us understand the depth and breadth of challenges and opportunities to reflect in this strategy.”
Following this consultation, 8 priority areas for action were identified which led to the development of this suicide prevention strategy.
“Focusing on driving down suicide is welcome, and we look forward to hearing how the UK Government will fund the plans in this strategy.”
Dr Sarah Hughes, Chief Executive of Mind
Who are the people this strategy aims to help?
This is a population-wide strategy which aims to reduce suicides across the board. However, specific groups have been identified as being particularly at risk and who therefore could benefit from bespoke support. These include children and young people, middle aged men, people who have self-harmed, people in contact with the mental health system already, people in contact with the criminal justice system, autistic individuals, and pregnant women and new mothers.
“We welcome efforts from Government to tackle suicide, and within this there is of course a need to prevent access to methods for taking your own life.
“But we must invest the bulk of our resources and energy into supporting people before they reach crisis point. Suicide is complex but preventable, and Government can have a significant impact if it works across its departments to tackle the root causes.”
Mark Winstanley, Chief Executive of Rethink Mental Illness
So, will this new strategy actually work?
Of course, the answer is that we hope so. But only time (and research) will tell.
The new strategy has been cautiously welcomed by different mental health charities. Although many make the point that the spending plans in this strategy are currently unfunded.
“It is great to see that the Government has responded to our calls for a new national suicide prevention strategy in England.
“However a plan without proper funding is like a car with no petrol – it may look great but it’s not going to get you where you need to be.
“At Samaritans we want to get to the point of achieving the lowest suicide rates ever recorded in this country but this takes both money and ambition.”
Julie Bentley, Chief Executive, Samaritans
“I appreciate the UK Government’s commitment to addressing the critical issue of suicide through its new national 5-year strategy. Suicide prevention is a complex challenge that requires a comprehensive approach, and this strategy seems to reflect that. The ambitious goal of reducing national suicide rates within two and a half years is commendable. While the exact reduction target is not specified, the emphasis on saving lives lost to suicide is a crucial aspect of this strategy. However, it’s vital that this strategy is fully funded, with sufficient resources allocated to local councils. Local action is often the front line in suicide prevention efforts, and without adequate funding we aren’t going to see any change in the current trends!
While this strategy is a positive step forward, its success will depend on effective implementation, rigorous research, and sustained commitment from the government and not be buffeted or delayed by the upcoming general election. Politics shouldn’t get in the way of saving lives!”
Lea Milligan, CEO, MQ Mental Health Research
If you feel like you need help, or are worried about someone then you can find help and resources here.
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