Suicides surge by a quarter in two years to record high

A Samaritans sign on Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol
Social Affairs Correspondent

The number of suicides recorded in England has risen to a record high after surging by a quarter in two years, new figures reveal.

Data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that 1,413 self-inflicted deaths were recorded in the last three months of last year, compared with 1,130 in the same period of 2017 – a 25 per cent increase. The rate of suicide in the final quarter of last year hit a 19-year high, at 11.4 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the figures.

Nearly three quarters (74 per cent) of deaths were among males, with the most common age group affected being those aged between 50 and 54. Regionally, the northeast of England was recorded as having the most suicides, at 12.8 deaths per 100,000 people, compared with 8.4 in London and 8.5 in the northwest.

In July 2018, the standard of proof used by coroners in England and Wales to determine whether a death was caused by suicide was lowered, which the ONS cautioned would result in an increased number of deaths recorded as suicide, possibly creating a discontinuity in the time series.

Dr Elizabeth Scowcroft, the head of research at Samaritans said: “Every single one of these deaths is a tragedy that devastates families, friends and communities. Suicide is complex and rarely caused by one thing. Many of us may experience suicidal feelings in our life, but they are temporary, even if someone has been feeling low, anxious or struggling to cope for a long period of time. That’s why getting the right kind of support at the right time is so important.”

Geoff Heyes, the head of health policy and influencing at mental health charity Mind, said the increase in suicides was “worrying”, adding: “We lose several thousand people to suicide each year, particularly men, who usually account for three in every four deaths. The reasons someone might choose to end their own life are many, complex and varied.”

Mr Heyes went on to say that the coronavirus pandemic brought into focus the importance of mental health services being available to anyone who needs them as society fights the crisis at every level – including the government, the NHS, charities, businesses, communities, families and individuals.

“We know our hard-working NHS staff are facing their biggest challenge yet, dealing with the immediate emergency on our hands. There’s no ‘normal’ way to emotionally respond to a pandemic – there isn’t a rulebook for this situation, and the mental health impact on us all cannot be underestimated,” he said. “So it’s vital mental health services are available to everyone who needs them, before people become even more unwell and reach crisis point, which will only put more pressure on our NHS, as well as endangering lives. A significant proportion of people who take their own lives have asked for support for their mental health within the last 12 months, and that support is even harder to come by at the moment.”

If you are experiencing feelings of distress and isolation, or are struggling to cope, The Samaritans offers support; you can speak to someone for free over the phone, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch