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Government Launches Suicide Prevention Strategy

suicide prevention

Yesterday, the Government launched its suicide prevention strategy for England which sets out a 5-year plan to prevent suicide and self harm. The Government is hoping to reduce suicide rates within 2.5 years of implementation.

Suicide Prevention Strategy

To mark suicide prevention awareness day, the Government set out its 5-year vision informed by the mental health call for evidence launched in 2022. The department for health and social care unveiled plans for reducing suicide rates and improving support for those who have self-harmed and those bereaved by suicide. The Government recognises that it will need to work with a range of sectors and organisations to do this, such as local government, the NHS and academia.

This strategy also comes amid concerns about rising deaths and self harm among certain demographics. For example, rates have increased among young people, and 3/4 of suicides in 2021 were men. As a result, the strategy aims to provide “tailored and targeted support” to “priority groups” including those at higher risk of suicide, including middle-aged men, children and young people, those who have self-harmed, mental health service users, autistic people, pregnant women and new mothers, and those “in contact with the justice system”.

Others thought to be at higher risk include gambling addicts, victims of domestic abuse, substance addicts, people in financial difficulties, people who have a physical illness, and those who are isolated or lonely. The document said early intervention is “vital” and more needs to be done to prevent people from reaching a crisis point in the first place. It also set out ambitions for a “no wrong door” approach, which means people who seek help for suicidal thoughts will receive support no matter which service they initially access.

100 actions to reduce suicide

The new strategy sets out more than 100 actions to reduce suicide and looks at various issues including:

  • A national alert system to highlight new methods of suicide to schools, universities and charities and give instruction on how to react and safeguard people who could be affected.
  • Medical experts to review whether reducing the number of paracetamol people can buy in shops could help bring down suicide rates.
  • The Department for Education (DfE) to examine whether suicide and self-harm prevention should be part of the school curriculum.
  • Half of schools in England to have mental health support teams in place by April 2025. The DfE will also offer all state schools and colleges funding to train a senior mental health lead by 2025.
  • More support for bespoke services to help middle-aged men, who are at a higher risk of suicide, including support and sport groups. Ministers are also encouraging construction and manufacturing businesses to take extra steps to support workers, saying these male-dominated industries could do more to help employees.
  • Ensuring pregnant women and new mothers get support at “every contact” with health professionals, who will be required to update a risk assessment at each appointment.
  • Crisis text lines to be rolled out in all areas of England.
  • A consultation on a potential tax for betting companies to fund “research, education and treatment of gambling harms”.
  • More support for bereaved families.
  • The role of online safety.
  • Recommendations to employers include employment assistance programmes, decdicated line manager training and peer support networks.
  • The plan also encourages employers to have staff trained in mental health first aid, mental health support and suicide prevention awareness.

Responses

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said that preventing people from reaching the lowest point is “imperative” and pointed to the importance of eradicating harmful online material. Similarly, Mental Health minister Maria Caulfield said “the impact of suicide on individuals and loved ones is devastating. “This strategy will bolster the work this Government is already undertaking to reduce the number of suicides, and help us intervene where needed as early as possible.”

Moreover Sarah McIntosh, director of delivery at Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, said the proposal is promising and highlighted the importance of the workplace in supporting people. “Everyone needs to come together to reduce suicide. Workplaces, where most adults spend over a third of their time, have the potential to play a life-saving role.”

MHFA England has called on employers to embed suicide awareness, prevention and support into their existing mental health and wellbeing strategies as research found a third of employees (33%) would speak to their manager if they were experiencing poor mental health, but less than one in five (19%) would discuss having suicidal thoughts.

However, charities such as the Samaritans, Mind, the Centre for Mental Health, Rethink Mental Illness, have expressed concerns over funding.

Samaritans chief executive Julie Bentley said: “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.

Moreover, Mark Winstanley, chief executive of Rethink Mental Illness pointed to the importance of supporting people before they reach crisis point.

Final thought

Reductions in deaths by suicide have stalled since 2018 and the last prevention strategy was published over 10 years ago. The Government has therefore been urged to conduct a plan as many organisations, including Curia, have called for ministers to act.

The strategy establishes a thorough response, but charities are correct to have concerns over funding as many venues for support are currently severely under funded so do not have the capacity to help people.

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