There has never been a more important time to talk about suicide
The statistics around suicide are chilling, and the picture is only getting worse.
New figures from the Office of National Statistics show there were 5,691 suicides registered last year – the highest figure for the last two decades.
Three quarters of these deaths were men, and males aged 45-49 remain the highest risk group.
Here in Dorset, separate figures from Public Health England show another increase – 95 suicides among men and boys between 2017 and 2019, the latest period for which data is available.
Worrying as these figures are, they relate to a period before Covid-19 turned our world upside down.
Mental health problems on rise
Mental health charities talk about a huge increase in people reporting issues such as anxiety, stress and depression during the lockdown and its aftermath.
Back in May, the Zero Suicide Alliance said more than half a million people accessed their online suicide prevention training course in just three weeks.
We are nowhere near the end of this pandemic, and we have not yet felt its full impact on many aspects of our lives.
The furlough scheme, which has provided a lifeline for many businesses and is still supporting millions of workers, is due to end next month. When it does, some of these businesses will inevitably go to the wall, and we could see levels of unemployment not experienced since the early 1990s, bringing with it all of the mental health problems associated with people being out of work.
I worry greatly about what the next set of suicide statistics will show us, when we come to sit down and count the true cost of Covid-19.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Today marks World Suicide Prevention Day, and I don’t think there has ever been a more appropriate time for organisations around the globe to raise awareness of the issue and to take action to prevent it.
Help is out there
Help is available locally for people who are struggling. This includes schemes such as the free mental health sessions being run by Dorset Mind, which I was very proud to support through my Safer Dorset Fund Covid-19 grants.
These sessions are for people who have experienced problems such as anxiety, panic, isolation, depression and anger during the outbreak, but there are many other organisations out there who can help.
Of course, policing has a role to play as well. One of my commitments as Police and Crime Commissioner was to pilot early intervention interviews for adults who return home after going missing.
People who have episodes in which they go missing do sometimes sadly go on to kill themselves, and the purpose of these interviews is to provide them with the help they might need, including access to mental health services. I’m glad to say this scheme has now been developed with Dorset Police.
But many other people who kill themselves often go completely under the radar, with nothing to flag them up to the authorities.
I have long argued that while the majority of people looking at suicide prevention are health professionals, this expertise needs to be spread much wider. We need to see other organisations, including large private sector employers, getting involved in this issue and helping raise awareness and training.
We cannot and should not expect everyone to become crisis support workers, but a basic understanding of how to spot the symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mental health problems is a skill more people should develop. Knowledge of what to say to those who may be struggling and how to refer them to services who can help is another.
Break the taboo
We also need to get rid of the taboo that surrounds suicide.
Sadly, perhaps because it is still regarded by some as shameful and unnatural, suicide remains something many people refuse to talk about.
Taboos make problems easy to ignore. If we are ever to address this issue, and make significant reductions in the number of people who take their own lives every year, the single thing we need to do is lose our fear of talking about it.
Look after each other
Most importantly of all, we need to look after ourselves and look after each other.
Remember, it’s OK not to be OK. If you’re struggling, please talk to somebody about it. If you’re not able to talk to family and friends, talk to one of the many organisations out there who can help.
If you have lost your job as a result of the pandemic, you of course have my sympathy, but please remember this is not your fault and should not be a stigma that haunts you.
If your business has closed as a result of the pandemic, please remember this isn’t your fault. Many, many employers have struggled. We must remember the expression ‘no blame, no shame’ and remove the stigma.
And check on people in your friendship groups, particularly men, if you’re worried they’re not OK. Listen to them – you might be surprised how people open up if they’re asked. Click here to find some great advice from Samaritans about how to talk to someone you’re worried about.
Of course, is someone is at immediate risk of harm you should call 999, but you can also find advice about who to contact in the 'vulnerable people' and 'loneliness' sections of Dorset Police's Ask NED page.
Every suicide statistic represents not one tragedy, but dozens of friends, siblings, parents and children left behind. These next few years are not likely to be easy. Please, talk to each other.