Government launches strategy to cut number of suicides

The government’s new strategy focuses particularly on at-risk groups such as middle-aged men and new mothers

12th September 2023 about a 4 minute read
"The strategy stresses the need for safer services and supportive communities. It acknowledges the bereaved families whose campaigning has turned personal tragedy into benefit for others. It gives the message that suicide can affect any of us and there is a role for all of us in prevention.” Professor Sir Louis Appleby, chair, National Suicide Prevention Strategy Advisory Group

The government has launched a national strategy to reduce the number of suicides in England.

The Suicide prevention strategy for England: 2023 to 2028 makes a commitment to reducing the number of suicides in England within two-and-a-half years.

The strategy outlines more than 100 measures to cut suicide rates, covering both early intervention and supporting anyone going through the trauma of a crisis. The measures include:

  • A new national alert system to notify relevant authorities, such as schools, universities, and charities, of emerging methods of suicides and risks, and any required actions that can reduce access or limit awareness
  • New guidance for first responders, recognising new and emerging methods, and how such incidents should be dealt with
  • Near real-time surveillance of trends in suicides to be introduced on a national scale this year – enabling more timely and targeted actions
  • A pledge to collaborate with countries around the world to target and stop suppliers of dangerous and lethal substances at the source
  • Action to support specific groups at risk of suicide, including children and young people, middle-aged men, autistic people, pregnant women, and new mothers

The new national alert system on emerging methods or risks will mean that anyone who comes into contact with potentially dangerous new methods of suicide will have a direct link into central government to report it for discussion at the cross-sector emerging methods working group.

From there, alerts will be circulated to all authorities who need to be aware and may be required to take mitigating action. If the method in question is being used predominantly by children or young people, for example, every single school and headteacher in the country will receive a government alert. This one-page alert will lay out the risks and give clear instruction about how to react to safeguard those who could be affected.

Middle-aged men have highest suicide rate

The strategy also contains measures for specific groups of people. Middle-aged men have had the highest rates of suicide of any other group since 2010, and the government said that men need appropriate support. The strategy also notes that, although men are more likely to die by suicide, the female suicide rate is increasing faster than the male suicide rate.  Suicide is also the leading cause of direct deaths six weeks to a year after the end of pregnancy. The government is working with organisations to sponsor a project led by Tommy’s and Sands Maternity Consortium, which will engage people who have had suicidal thoughts or self-harmed and present with particular risk factors during the perinatal period.

Professor Sir Louis Appleby, chair of the National Suicide Prevention Strategy Advisory Group, said that the strategy “stresses the need for safer services and supportive communities. It acknowledges the bereaved families whose campaigning has turned personal tragedy into benefit for others. It gives the message that suicide can affect any of us and there is a role for all of us in prevention.”

The government said it would also work much more closely with the police to use its data about suspected suicides, as well as with the Office for National Statistics, so that they receive an indication of trends much more quickly. The government will publish a monthly report on its near real-time findings.

Last month, the government launched a £10 million Suicide Prevention Grant Fund, enabling charities across England to apply for funding to support tens of thousands of people experiencing suicidal thoughts.

The government will also explore whether regulatory change is required to decrease how many tablets like paracetamol can be sold to a customer or patient at once.

Minister for Mental Health Maria Caulfield said: “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.”

FCC Insight

At a time when rates of mental ill-health are soaring, a national plan to reduce suicide is essential. The suicide rate has remained static since the first suicide prevention plan was first published in 2012, and it is clear that more focused efforts to tackle the problem are needed. We welcome the government’s decision to target resources on particular at-risk groups such as middle-aged men, people with autism and pregnant women and new mothers. The aim of reducing the suicide rate within two-and-a-half years is ambitious, but with strong intervention, we hope it is achievable. We shouldn’t forget, either, that suicide does not exist in isolation. Severe depression is often driven by social factors such as poverty and poor housing, and we would like to see government take more robust measures to address those too.