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Health

The Suicide Rate in the UK Is at Its Highest Since 2002: Data

Why Global Citizens Should Care
The UN's Global Goal 3 calls for health and wellbeing for everyone, and that includes mental as well as physical health. These latest figures on the rate of suicide in Britain mark a worrying change following five years of decline. The causes for the increase are not yet known, but there is still stigma around talking about mental health which is something we can all change. Join the movement by taking action here in support of health and wellbeing for everyone.

The rate of suicide in the UK has risen sharply and is now the highest seen since 2002, figures released on Tuesday by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show. 

The data shows that the number of deaths recorded as suicide by coronors in Britain rose by 11.8% in 2018 compared to the previous year. That’s a total of 6,507 suicides or 11.2 per 100,000 people in the population, the Guardian reported.    

It is the first time the rate has risen since 2013. Ruth Sutherland, the chief executive of Samaritans, a telephone support hotline for those in crisis, said the new figures were “extremely worrying”. 

“Every single one of these deaths is a tragedy that devastates families, friends, and communities,” Sutherland said. 

“We know that suicide is not inevitable; it is preventable, and encouraging steps have been made to prevent suicide, but we need to look at suicide as a serious public health issue," she added. 

Nick Stripe, head of analysis and life events at the ONS said the significant increase marked a change in the previous trend of continuous decline since 2013 and that the numbers mainly represented an increase among men taking their own life. 

“While the exact reasons for this [increase] are unknown, the latest data shows this was largely driven by an increase among men who have continued to be most at risk of dying by suicide,” he told the BBC

He went on to say that the more detailed data shows increases in the rate among young adults specifically, with young women under 25 now at the highest rate on record for their age group, while the number is still comparatively low for women. The group most at risk however continues to be men between the age of 45 and 49. 

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The reasons for the increase still need to be looked in to, the ONS said. They added that changes made in 2018 to the way coroners records these deaths may be a factor.

In July 2018 the standard of proof coroners use to determine whether the cause of death was suicide was lowered from "beyond reasonable doubt" — the same standard as a criminal trial — to the "balance of probabilities". 

Stripe said: "Looking at the overall trend since the early 80s, we are still witnessing a gradual decline in the rate of suicide for the population as a whole."

"We will continue to monitor the recent increase, to help inform decision-makers and others that are working to protect vulnerable people at risk," he added.

Tom Madders from the youth mental health charity Young Minds told the BBC it was “concerning” that there was a reported rise in young people dying by suicide. 

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"The reasons why young people feel suicidal are often complex, but we know that traumatic experiences at a young age — like bereavement, bullying, or abuse — can have a huge impact on mental health," Madders said. "School pressure, concerns about how you look, and difficult relationships with family or friends can also have a significant effect."

He said: "We're seeing some much-needed investment in NHS mental health services — but we need much more action to ensure young people can get early help, long before they reach crisis point." 

The news comes on the same day that new research showed the UK is training record numbers of so-called mental health first aiders in the workplace, the Guardian reported

The newspaper found that over 140,000 people had been trained during 2018-2019 from small businesses to large corporations, including 10,000 staffers at FTSE 100 companies.  

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Mental health first aiders are designated people in a workplace who have been trained to listen to the concerns of fellow employees about their mental health and point them in the direction of support. 

Experts have warned that the programme should not be seen as a silver bullet and can not alone lead to a major improvement in employees’ mental health. 

Dr. Jo Billings, a consultant clinical psychologist, said: “Anything that raises people’s understanding of mental health is a really good thing. But it’s not sufficient to tackle mental illness in the workplace.” 

The head of the training body responsible for mental health first aid, Simon Blake, said it was important for the training to be done alongside other elements such as “prevention, early intervention, and job design”. 

  • If you're based in the UK and want to talk to someone or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the Samaritans for free at any time, from any phone, on 116 123. You can find international resources here.