How working together can help prevent more suicide cases in the UK

Chukumeka Maxwell explores the complex nature of working with people with suicidal feelings.

Every year an estimated 800,000 people lose their lives to suicide. In recent years, there has been a shift of approach towards ‘working together’ to help suicidal people feel listened to and appreciated. Those feeling low or suicidal need to know that it is ok to talk about their issues, and having family and friends nearby can make a huge difference. It was this philosophy that saw ‘working together’ become the theme of World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) in 2019.

Developments in prevention
In the last few years, there have been many developments in the work towards preventing suicide, both in the UK and internationally. In October 2018, the UK became the first country to have a Suicide Prevention Minister when Jackie Doyle-Price was appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Mental Health, Inequalities and Suicide Prevention. The appointment was seen as a huge step in the effort to remove the stigma that surrounds suicide.

The recent publication of the NHS Long Term Plan re-affirmed the NHS’s commitment to make suicide prevention a long-term priority over the next decade. It has pledged to roll-out funding to further Sustainability and Transformation Partnership (STP) areas, implementing a new Mental Health Safety Improvement Programme, as well as rolling-out suicide bereavement services across the country.

A new research body
A cross-government suicide prevention workplan was produced to show how the Government will work with the NHS, local authorities and the voluntary sector to reduce suicide rates. This resulted in the establishment of the National Suicide Prevention Strategy Delivery Group (NSPSDG), a body comprised of lead policy officials across government and delivery agencies alongside the National Suicide Prevention Alliance (NSPA), to track, monitor, and report on the implementation of the workplan.

What improvements can be made?
Within the plan, there was an opportunity to look at joint learning and themes that appeared across various suicide prevention strategies and groups, in order to identify potential collaborations and shortcomings. Three overarching themes have been identified as:

Data and information sharing
The NSPSDG has recognised that data and information relating to suicide and self-harm is consistently collected across different organisations and sectors. The NSPSDG will work to understand what data and information is collected, and how the potential sharing of this data could improve suicide prevention. The group will also monitor the progress of suicide surveillance work done by Public Health England, to understand how this can improve data sharing across sectors.

Training
The inclusion of suicide awareness in staff training has emerged as a common theme across various groups, predominately in those who work within the public services, as they have the highest likelihood of coming into contact with someone at risk of suicide. The scope of this training requirement spans the transport network, health settings, prisons, as well as other public services.

Self-harm
The scope of the strategy to include addressing self-harm as an issue in its own right has been extended. Self-harm remains a key indicator risk of suicide across community, hospital and custodial settings. Addressing increasing levels of self-harm is a key issue for all delivery partners.

Positive signs
There has been a great focus on building structures of work too. In June 2019 the ‘Ask’ workshop was brought to the UK delivered by Lifeline Workshops Inc. Additionally, the Government announced more training for teachers, universities and the NHS. We also now have Suicide Prevention Transformation Programme Managers and Regional Mental Health Programme Teams, funded by NHS England, NHS Improvement and Public Health England.
Data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in 2017 showed that the suicide rate in England had reduced for the third consecutive year and was at its lowest for seven years. The ‘Five Year Forward View for Mental Health’ set out an ambition to reduce the number of suicides in England by 10% by 2020.

By maintaining this level of progress, we can continue to reduce the risk of suicide across the country. Suicide prevention is definitely everybody’s business. We can all do something to help reduce the amount of suicides by ‘working together’ for the benefit of everyone.

More information can be found at www.ecl.org

Chukumeka Maxwell is the Founding Director of Action to Prevent Suicide.

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