‘Bold action’ needed with Government set to miss suicide reduction target, charity warns

Mental health charity warns that the full effects of the pandemic on mental health have yet to be felt, but welcome the Government’s new mental health action plan.

29/03/21

‘Bold action’ needed with Government set to miss suicide reduction target, charity warns

Mental health charity the Samaritans have called for “bold action” from the Government to protect more people from suicide, with the full force of the challenge for mental health services yet to be felt.

The comments have come alongside the release of the Government’s ‘National Suicide Prevention Strategy Progress Report’, which outlines the latest data on suicide and self-harm in England, as well as the Government’s progress on tackling the issue.

The report found that between 2014 and 2017, there was a steady decline in the number
of registered suicides in England, with 2017 seeing the lowest number of deaths
since 2010.

However, sadly, the number of registered suicide deaths increased in both 2018 and
2019.

In addition, whilst early indications from real time surveillance of a subset of local areas do not suggest a rise in the average number of suicides when comparing pre- and post-lockdown figures, for January to August 2020, the Government has acknowledged that the effects of the pandemic on mental health has yet to be fully realised.

Julie Bentley, CEO of Samaritans, welcomed the announcement of the action plan, but warned many impacts of the pandemic on mental health had not been seen yet.
“These are important steps in the right direction, and we are pleased to see a commitment to cross-government action and financial backing for the voluntary sector which provides critical services that help prevent suicide,” said Bentley.

“With two-thirds of people who die by suicide not in touch with mental health services in the year before their death, we need bold action. The fact remains that the Government’s target, to reduce suicide by 10% nationally by the end of this year, will not be met.

“Fortunately, there is no evidence of a national rise in suicides during the pandemic, but the delays in recording deaths mean that this remains an emerging picture,” added Bentley.

It’s absolutely crucial that timely information on suicides is available, to allow us to monitor and respond to any increases in suicide rates within a particular area or group across the country and ultimately, save lives.”

“The pressures from the pandemic are likely to continue for some time. Therefore, suicide prevention should be embedded at the outset in the ways that the Government tackles issues like unemployment and debt in order to create practical means of supporting vulnerable individuals at every opportunity.”

“It will be crucial that the proposed mental health impact assessment is trialled as soon as possible, prioritising the well-being of the nation,” Bentley concluded.

Alongside the report, the UK Government has also announced its long-awaited mental health recovery action plan, with a £500 million funding injection to expand and improve current services.

The new ‘Mental Health Recovery Action Plan’ aims to improve support services for people with pre-existing mental health difficulties, ranging from severe mental illnesses such as bipolar and schizophrenia, as well as those with more common mental health issues, including anxiety and depression.

This includes a new half-a-billion-pound funding strategy to cover the costs of improving existing NHS services, support workforce growth, and help tackle “critical backlogs” in treatment as a result of pandemic pressures.

In addition, the Government says that part of the new funding will go towards projects aimed at prevention of mental ill-health and decrease suicide risk.

Under the plan, NHS talking therapies (IAPT services) will receive an additional £38 million in funding, which will help expand their offer of the confidential treatment of conditions such as anxiety, depression and PTSD will expand, helping to support and estimate 1.6 million people to access services over the coming year.

The Government has pledged that more therapists will also be trained to support those with more complex mental health needs as a result of the pandemic.

Additionally, the Government aims to ‘accelerate expansion and transformation’ of community mental health services through a £58 million funding boost that aims to ensure better relationships between primary and secondary care services. Including mental health staff embedded in primary care.

The funding will also help enable people with severe mental illnesses to access psychological therapies, improved physical health care, employment support, personalised and trauma-informed care, medicines management and support for self-harm, the Government says.

One-off initiatives will also receive funding to help tackle the impact of COVID-19
on mental health, learning disability, and autism services – as well as to support groups who have disproportionately been affected by the pandemic.

The new funding will also be used to help improve more localised mental health initiatives in the most deprived local authority areas in England, supporting prevention activities like debt advice, carers support, outreach to people facing loneliness and isolation, youth projects and community groups.

There is also new investment to improve mental health services for those aged 18-25, who can often be caught between children’s and adults’ services, especially if they are students.

As well as mental health, £14 million has been earmarked to support the physical health of people living with severe mental illness, through schemes encouraging them to come forward for physical health checks to help spot the signs of conditions like diabetes and heart disease, and get their COVID-19 vaccine.

There is also additional funding for schemes supporting dementia diagnosis, pilot approaches to support children who have experienced complex trauma, schemes to help offenders with complex mental health needs, as well as suicide prevention.

In addition, the plan includes a commitment to promote Public Health England’s ‘Psychological First Aid’ free online training modules that help people develop their skills and confidence in providing key psychological support to others on issues such as job worries, bereavement or isolation.

To support NHS mental health services, £111 million will be invested to train the workforce of the future, which the Government says will ensure staff are in place to support two million more people access NHS mental health care and treatment by 2023/24.

With mental health services having remained open through a enforced transition to digital during the pandemic, £30 million will help support mental health Trusts to embed digital and remote working into service delivery.

The Government is also pledging an additional £10 million to support the mental health of the frontline workers in the wake of the pandemic alongside support already put in place by NHS England, including a dedicated confidential staff support line operated by the Samaritans, and a £15 million investment introduced to strengthen mental health support for NHS staff during the second wave.

Claire Murdoch, National Mental Health Director at NHS England, acknowledged that the pandemic had affected the mental health of many over the past year, and praised the work of frontline NHS services for continuing to provide support.

“The pandemic has turned everyone’s lives upside down and has been really tough on mental health which is why we have ensured NHS services have remained open while also treating tens of thousands of [COVID-19] patients,” said Murdoch.

“This funding announced as part of the Spending Review last November will now support the NHS’s work to boost capacity of the services we offer, including our world-leading talking therapies, community-based care for people with severe mental illness, and our round the clock crisis lines which were established at the beginning of the pandemic.”

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