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Major national strategy to reduce number of tragic suicides

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Government pledge to reduce England’s suicide rate within 2.5 years with launch of new National Suicide Prevention Strategy

  • Action to aid specific groups at risk of suicide, including children and young people, middle-aged men, autistic people, pregnant women, and new mothers
  • More than 100 measures being taken including a national alert system to combat emerging methods of suicide and refreshed guidance for first responders

Thousands more people approaching a crisis will get the support they so desperately need, and fewer loved ones will go through the heartbreak of losing a friend or relative to suicide, as the government launches a new national strategy to rapidly reduce England’s suicide rate.

The National Suicide Prevention Strategy delivers a firm commitment to see the number of suicides in England decrease within two and a half years at the very latest.

The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan sets out an ambition to grow the mental health workforce by 73% by 2036 to 2037, and the workforce already continues to grow to help cut waiting lists – one of this government’s top five priorities. In March 2023, there were almost 9,300 more mental health staff working than the previous year.

Health and Social Care Secretary, Steve Barclay, said:

Too many people are still affected by the tragedy of suicide, which is so often preventable.

This national cross-government strategy details over one hundred actions we’ll take to ensure anyone experiencing the turmoil of a crisis has access to the urgent support they need.

It’s imperative we support people earlier to prevent them reaching the lowest point, while tackling emerging methods of suicide, and eradicating harmful material online.

We’re working at pace to achieve this, and we continue to invest billions of pounds to transform and improve our nation’s mental health services and – most importantly – save lives.

Over 100 measures have been outlined in the strategy aimed at saving lives, providing early intervention, and supporting anyone going through the trauma of a crisis. This includes:

  • a new national alert system to notify relevant authorities – like schools, universities, and charities – of emerging methods of suicides and risks, and any required actions that can reduce access or limit awareness
  • fresh guidance issued to first responders, recognising new and emerging methods and how such incidents should be dealt with
  • near real-time surveillance of trends in tragic suicides to be introduced on a national scale this year – enabling more timely and targeted actions
  • a government pledge to collaborate with countries around the world to target and stop suppliers of dangerous and lethal substances at the source

Last month the government launched a £10 million Suicide Prevention Grant Fund, calling on the voluntary sector across England to apply for funding to continue supporting tens of thousands of people experiencing suicidal thoughts. It comes alongside an expected spend of £13.6 billion this year alone to transform the country’s mental health services so millions of people can quickly access NHS support.

The government is committed to ensuring children and young people receive the mental health care they deserve. It is going further and faster to achieve that.

Tens of millions of children in schools across England will have access to a dedicated mental health support team by the end of March 2025, with at least half of school pupils set to receive such support. Mental health support teams intervene where a mild-to-moderate mental health issue is identified and ensure children and young people are both protected and supported.

As part of its ongoing work with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority (MHRA), the government will 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:

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.

An extra £2.3 billion is going into our mental health services each year, which will help an additional two million people access vital NHS-funded mental health support by 2024.

Professor Sir Louis Appleby, Chair of the National Suicide Prevention Strategy Advisory Group, said:

The strategy makes a new commitment to bring down the unacceptable figure of over 5,000 suicides per year in England. It 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 new national alert system on emerging methods or risks will mean anyone who comes into contact with potentially dangerous new methods of suicide will have a direct link into central government to report it, for consideration and discussion at the already established cross-sector emerging methods working group.

Through this, alerts will be circulated to all authorities who should 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.

Change on a national scale is vitally important. Female deaths by suicide are heartbreakingly increasing at a higher rate than male deaths. It’s imperative such trends are captured as early as possible and preventative measures put in place to save lives.

The government will therefore work much more closely with the police to use its data about ‘suspected’ suicides, as well as with the Office for National Statistics, to get an indication of trends much more quickly. The government will publish a monthly report on its near real-time findings.

Steve Mallen, Co-Founder of Zero Suicide Alliance, said:

The publication of the new National Suicide Prevention Strategy is perfectly timed to coincide with World Suicide Prevention Day which reminds everyone everywhere that suicide prevention is everyone’s responsibility.

The new strategy was prepared in consultation with sector leaders, diverse interest groups and people with lived experience, making it a collaborative resource impacting the whole population. In addition, the inter-departmental co-operation and alignment across government in preparing the new strategy was essential and greatly welcomed.

With the accompanying Action Plan and oversight, there is a clear intention to save lives and improve wellbeing.

The strategy also contains measures for specific groups of people. Sadly, middle-aged men, for example, have had the highest rates of suicide of any other group since 2010. Men need appropriate support when experiencing the agony and turmoil of a crisis.

To support them, the strategy therefore includes an action to ensure employers in largely male industries like construction and manufacturing have appropriate support in place for employees, such as mental health first aiders.

In the UK, suicide is sadly the leading cause of direct deaths six weeks to a year after the end of pregnancy.

To further understand possible links between these factors and suicide and self-harm, the government is working with various partners to sponsor a project led by the charity Tommy’s and Sands Maternity Consortium, which will engage people who have had suicidal thoughts or self-harmed and present with certain risk factors during the perinatal period.

Robert Wilson, Head of the Sands and Tommy’s Joint Policy Unit, said:

We know how important it is to make sure the right support is available for women and birthing people during their pregnancy journey, including as they plan for pregnancy.

This is especially true where someone has a mental health condition which could put them at greater risk of harm. In order to better understand how care and support can be improved, the Sands and Tommy’s Joint Policy Unit is leading a project which will explore people’s experiences of suicide and self-harm and risk factors during the perinatal period.

We are grateful for the VCSE Health and Wellbeing Alliance for sponsoring this work.

Unprecedented action is already being taken to improve the nation’s mental health and provide appropriate support:

  • A £150 million investment up to April 2025 to better support people experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, mental health crises. This will support the rollout of mental health ambulances and delivery of over 160 projects – including alternatives to A&E – to ensure people can receive specialist care in appropriate spaces and help ease pressure on the NHS
  • The government has worked with big business, including online suppliers and manufacturers of certain potentially dangerous substances, to significantly reduce access to them, with major online suppliers also removing substances from sale to individuals
  • We are also tackling harmful material that encourages self-harm or suicide through the Online Safety Bill, and continue to work with multiple agencies to ensure appropriate messaging and labelling is used.
  • In addition to the legislation, the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, alongside the Department of Health and Social Care, will explore further opportunities to address online harms including harmful content shared in pro-suicide websites and forums
  • We are investing £2.3 billion extra a year into mental health services, and have set out our aim in the NHS Long Term Plan for an additional 345,000 children and young people to access NHS-funded mental health support by 2024
  • The Department for Education is engaging experts and those with lived experience to review Relationships, Sex and Health Education guidance to determine whether suicide and self-harm prevention will be included as an explicit part of the curriculum to support young people

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