7 May 2024
Suicide and Self-Harm

Every case of suicide is a tragedy many times over: for the person who could see no way out; for their family and friends, often left with an intolerable burden of guilt; and also, for society as a whole in its failure to provide greater support.

As part of the NHS Long Term Plan, the Government boosted funding to the suicide reduction programme in England by £57 million by March 2024 which has supported local suicide prevention plans and established bereavement support services. All mental health providers now have 24/7 urgent mental health helplines in place.

The Government has published a National Suicide Prevention Strategy which includes a commitment to see suicides in England decrease within two and a half years at the very latest. Furthermore, the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan sets out an ambition to grow the mental health workforce by 73 per cent by 2036 to 2037, thus cutting 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.

In August 2023, the Government relaunched a £10 million fund so charities can work with the NHS to provide life-saving suicide prevention services. A total of 79 organisations, including a suicide prevention helpline, will receive funding through the Government’s Suicide Prevention VCSE Grant Fund. This will expand access to support services covering every region in the country, including the areas with the highest rates of suicide.

Through the Online Safety Act 2023, companies are required to proactively remove and limit the spread of illegal content which encourages or incites suicide online. Finally, the Government is set to publish a Major Conditions Strategy, which will outline outcome improvements in six condition areas, including mental ill-health.

Just one life lost to suicide is one too many. With the implementation of these policies, the Government hopes to find new ways to prevent suicide.

Suicide Surveillance System -

In November 2023, the Government delivered on a key commitment in its National Suicide Prevention Strategy by launching a new suicide surveillance system. This will support efforts to tackle emerging methods of suicide and clamp down on those seeking to sell dangerous products to vulnerable people.

Working alongside the National Police Chiefs’ Council to bring together important local intelligence, the Government will obtain near to real-time data from across the country on deaths by suspected suicide by gender, age group, and method.

Previously, the only suicide data available at a national level was provided by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), but it could take up to two years for the official ONS data to come through. Following this announcement, however, the data will be received from individual police forces in England and the Government will get it within three months of a suspected suicide.

Female deaths by suicide, for example, are increasing at a higher rate than male deaths therefore it’s imperative such trends are captured as early as possible and preventative measures put in place to save lives.

A monthly report on the new datasets will be published by the Government, and it will act as an early warning system for indications of any change in tragic suicides. The new datasets will also support the future rollout of a national alert system on emerging methods or risks, so anyone who comes into contact with potentially dangerous new methods of suicide will have a direct link into central government to report it. Through this, alerts will soon be circulated to all authorities like schools and charities who should be aware and may be required to take mitigating action.

Suicide Prevention Research -

The National Institute of Health Research is currently funding a £1.1 million research award to assess the effectiveness of surveillance technologies to prevent suicides at high-risk locations. The purpose of this study is to discern what technology is currently being used, how effective it is in preventing suicides, including understanding any unintended consequences of its use, and possible barriers to effectiveness.

Regional Disparities -

I also recognise that there are also some clear disparities in suicide rates across the country. Someone is twice as likely to die from suicide in the North East compared to London, and men living in more deprived areas are at 10 times more risk of suicide than in the least deprived areas. The Government is committed to spreading wealth and opportunity across the country, as well as tackling deprivation where it exists.

Calls to make Suicide Prevention a Compulsory Part of the School Curriculum -

I note your calls to make suicide prevention a compulsory part of the school curriculum. I would like to reassure you that all pupils in schools are taught about mental health as part of the relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) curriculum, which the Department for Education made mandatory in 2020 to ensure that all pupils are taught about important topics. Schools can teach older pupils about suicide in an age-appropriate and sensitive way. 

The RSHE statutory guidance advises that schools should approach teaching about self-harm and suicide carefully and should be aware of the risks to pupils from exposure to materials that are instructive rather than preventative, including websites or videos that provide instructions or methods of self-harm or suicide. The guidance is clear that where teachers have concerns about a specific pupil in relation to self-harm or suicidal thoughts, they must follow safeguarding procedures immediately.

Young People -

The NHS Long Term Plan is also specifically ensuring more support for young people’s mental health, including providing NHS funded mental health services and school or college-based Mental Health Support Teams to an additional 345,000 children and young people by 2023/24. The goal is to ensure that 100 per cent of children and young people who need specialist care can access it.

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.

Talking Therapies -

In the Autumn Statement 2023, the Government announced that it will be expanding Talking Therapies, the flagship NHS England programme for treatment of mild and moderate mental health conditions. Funding will be provided to increase the number of sessions per course of treatment as well as broaden access, leading to an expected additional 384,000 people completing a course of treatment by 2028-29.