Suicide rates are ‘unacceptably high’, say Health Committee

Suicide rates Samaritans helpline

The Health Committee says a clear implementation strategy and increased support for public mental health services are needed to bring down suicide rates

In its interim report into suicide prevention, the Health Committee outlines the main themes emerging from witnesses to its inquiry. The findings are being presented to government in order to inform the refreshed suicide prevention strategy, which is expected in January 2017. The Committee is due to publish its full report next year.

“4,820 people are recorded as having died by suicide in England last year, but the true figure is likely to be higher,” Dr Sarah Wollaston, chair of the Select Committee, commented. “Suicide is preventable and much more can and should be done to support those at risk.”

Suicide still the biggest killer of young men

Men are disproportionately affected, accounting for around 75% of all suicides, but suicide rates are rising among women. Suicide remains the biggest killer of men under the age of 49 as well as the leading cause of death in people aged 15-24.

According to the interim report, it is now the leading cause of death directly related to pregnancy in the year after mothers give birth. The Committee cites rising numbers of suicides in prisons and particular concerns about the risks following release from prison, too.

Avoidable loss of life by suicide is also a health inequality issue, the report says, with the link between suicide and poor economic circumstances well-established.

“I hope to see the most important messages from witnesses to our inquiry taken into account by the Government in their renewed suicide prevention strategy,” Dr Wollaston added. “The Committee will scrutinise the updated strategy and then hold a follow-up hearing before publishing a full report.”

Recommendations to bring down “unacceptably” high suicide rates

The key messages for suicide prevention that have emerged from witness evidence so far are around:

  • Implementation: A clear implementation strategy with strong national leadership, clear accountability, and transparent external scrutiny are needed.
  • Services: More support people is needed for people who are vulnerable to suicide, including wider support for public mental health and targeted support for at-risk groups. Improvements are also needed in both primary and secondary care and services for those bereaved by suicide.
  • Consensus statement on sharing information with families: Professionals need better training to maximise opportunities to involve families or friends in a patient’s recovery, where appropriate.
  • Timely and consistent data: To enable swift responses to suspected suicides and identify possible clusters, in order to prevent further suicides.
  • Media: Guidelines on reporting of suicide are being widely ignored. Greater attention must be paid to dealing with breaches by the media, at national and local level. Government should consider making changes to restrict access to harmful internet content, which may encourage suicide.

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