Page last updated at 13:48 GMT, Friday, 1 August 2008 14:48 UK

Suicide rate at record low level

Depressed man
Suicide rates among young men have been high

The suicide rate in England has continued to fall and is now at a record low, figures show.

A National Institute for Mental Health in England report reveals particular progress in cutting suicides among young men.

The three-year average was 8.3 suicides per 100,000 population in 2004-06, down from 8.5 in the previous three years.

However, the report raised concerns about the impact of insensitive media reporting of suicide.

It is vital that we redouble our efforts to reduce the growing number of suicides in prisons, where overcrowding and insufficient mental health care provision are major barriers to reducing both suicide and self-harm
Andy Bell
Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health

The media has attracted criticism over the way it handled a series of suicides in the Bridgend region of Wales, with critics suggesting the reports may encourage copy-cat behaviour.

The report shows a 7.5% drop in suicides among young men aged 20-34 between 2003-05 and 2004-06.

There were 145 suicides among mental health in-patients in 2005 compared with 157 in 2004.

The number of suicides among people in contact with mental health services also dropped, from 1,308 in 2004 to 1,277 in 2005.

However, the number of suicides in prison rose to 82 in 2007-08 from 71 in 2006-07.

Government target

Ivan Lewis, the Care Services Minister, described the drop in suicides among young men and mental health in-patients as "encouraging".

But he said: "We must do more to tackle the rise in prison suicides and promote sensitive media reporting of suicides."

He said work was also underway to ensure that journalists covered suicides in a "more sensitive and thoughtful way" in future.

The suicide prevention strategy for England was launched in September 2002 to support a government target of cutting the suicide rate by at least 20% by 2010.

If achieved, this would see the suicide rate fall from 9.2 deaths per 100,000 population in 1995-97 to 7.3 deaths per 100,000 in 2009-11.

Momentum

Celia Richardson, of the Mental Health Foundation, said: "It looks unlikely the government's target will be met by the target date.

"But we hope that the momentum will remain with suicide prevention after this period.

"We are particularly keen to see community-based approaches being implemented across the country."

Marjorie Wallace, of the mental health charity SANE, said more deaths could be prevented if more crisis numbers were made available within mental health services, and if those at risk were identfied and offered care more rapidly.

"There are still far too few trusts that (last figures show 50%) do not have crisis numbers or places of refuge where people can go when they believe that life has become unbearable."

Andy Bell, of the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, said: "Every suicide is a tragedy for everyone involved so it is reassuring that overall numbers of suicides are falling.

"It is vital that we redouble our efforts to reduce the growing number of suicides in prisons, where overcrowding and insufficient mental health care provision are major barriers to reducing both suicide and self-harm."

The report highlights action being taken around the country to try to reduce suicides.

For instance, in the South West physical barriers have been erected at well known "jump points" and "suicide patrols" of volunteers have been established to patrol hotspot areas.

In Nottingham a theatre group has written and produced a piece called "Strange Acts" which explores the theme of self-harm.

The play will be used in a variety of health promotion events and workshops.


SEE ALSO
Suicide rate drops in young men
15 Feb 08 |  Health

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