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Sharp Increase in Suicides in UK

By Hári Sewell

Posted: Tuesday January 22 2013

A blog by Hári Sewell on suicide data released by the the Office for National Statistics today which hows an increase in suicides by 437 in the last year. We need to reflect on what this means and take action.  All of us.


Official data just released shows that between 2010 and 2011 there has an increase in suicides by 437.  Look around on the internet or talk to someone within your circle and you will soon hear accounts of the shame, hurt and distress that usually follows for those left behind.  Maybe you need only reflect on your own experience.  Maybe you tried to kill yourself and saw first hand the reaction – the pain, disbelief and even the anger.  This is such a delicate and sensitive subject.  A set of data by ONS doesn’t capture the experience for each of the 6,045 suicides in people aged 15 and over in the UK.  Data reports just can’t do achieve that.  My heart goes out to anyone who is dealing with the aftermath.


I ponder where the shame element comes from?  I have heard people speak.  I know I have heard the words but what kind of society breeds shame for people who are left behind in such awful circumstances. 


Time To Change, the campaign to challenge stigma around mental health problems reports improving attitudes.  The sharp increase in the number of people who feel driven to take their own lives prods us to consider why this was their solution to their desolation and lack of hope?


The 2012 National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness suicide highlighted that 27% of people who take their own lives were in touch with mental health services at the time.  Clearly the majority by far are people who have struggled outside of support of mental health services. Are the messages about support not really reaching people?  Is stigma still a barrier?   Are there insufficient services to respond to need?  What role should Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services play in reducing suicides, by responding actively to people with a risk of acting on suicidal thoughts?  Most worrying still is the role of the economic downturn – both in terms of cuts to services but also the increased hardship.  When people feel like things have all crashed in on them the helplessness and hopelessness can be devastating.  I really believe that this sense of being in checkmate with death, as a result of debt, redundancy or other problems, is one that is hard to appreciate fully unless you’ve been there. 


I think it is a painful mirror to the decisions of the politicians that this country chose by default, and others with leadership positions.  For all the progress and jubilation about successes we make, we prioritise strategies for economic management over life.  I don’t write this naively. I follow the analysis of the local and global economy with interest.  However I can’t help but think that we are a lost society if we accept that an increase in the number of people who achieve their attempts at suicide (not counting the others who didn’t) as an unfortunate by-product of our mission to fix the economy. 


With Time to Change and IAPT services pushing against this upward trend, the increase by 437 should be seen as alarming.  The national programme IAPT was designed on the platform set by the happiness guru Lord Richard Layard (I own a copy of his book Happiness).  It is fair to say that a steep increase in suicides is the antithesis of increasing happiness in society.  And what of Prime Minister Cameron’s £2M campaign to measure happiness?  He argued that it was not a woolly pursuit.  Indeed.  The data hits us hard.  And what next?


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