BBC News

Monday, 16 September, 2002, 08:48 GMT 09:48 UK

Suicide strategy published

Young men have a high risk of suicide
Young men have a high risk of suicide

BBC News

People at high-risk of suicide should be identified earlier, under measures announced by the government.

Their National Suicide Prevention Strategy for England, published on Monday, is part of the government's aim to reduce the suicide rate by at least 20% by 2010.

The first thing is to try to reduce suicides in those groups in society in which rates are high
Professor Louis Appleby, National Director for Mental Health

It particularly wants to reach the 50% of people who commit suicide who have had no contact with psychiatric health services.

One person kills themself in England every two hours, and suicide is the most common cause of death among men under the age of 35.

The document aims to raise awareness of potential warning signals which friends, family and other healthcare professionals should look out for.

It sets out several measures including:

Some measures to reduce suicides have already been taken, including cutting the number of pills sold in paracetamol packs.

The number of deaths related to the painkiller fell 10% between 1998 and 1999 after the move.

Launching the strategy, Health Minister Jacqui Smith said: "There is no single route or quick fix to reducing suicide.

"There are many different reasons why someone decides to take their own life.

"In order to successfully implement this strategy we will be working in partnership with a wide range of organisations and individuals.

"This is not a one-off document and we intend it to be an evolving strategy that will develop in light of progress made and emerging evidence of good practice."

High risk

Professor Louis Appleby, National Director for Mental Health, told the BBC: "The first thing is to try to reduce suicides in those groups in society in which rates are high, such as people with mental illness."

He said there also needed to be improvements in the follow-up care of people at risk of suicide who had come to the attention of other areas such as drug and alcohol abuse services.

Professor Appleby added: "We want to talk to primary care authorities about better ways of identifying high risk people in the same way that can happen now for people at a high risk of cardiovascular disease."

But he said: "The group who most often don't have contact with anybody before they commit suicide are young men.

"They quite often don't look after their health very well, and they do carry high risk factors for suicide, such as drug misuse, and being unemployed or living alone.

"And the kind of young men who commit suicide often have quite turbulent past histories."

Professor Appleby said he wanted to improve services so young men who attend A&E after an overdose, or attend drug and alcohol services, would be better assessed and more closely followed up.

'On course'

The government will also commission a review of evidence worldwide on how young men can be reached using health promotional messages.

This will then be used to develop a pilot project to reach young men with messages for young men on how they can look after their mental health which, if successful, will be rolled out nationally.

He said the government was on course to reach its target of reducing suicides by 20% by 2010.

"Since 1997, the annual rate initially rose but for the last two years has actually fallen.

And he said if the trend continued at the same rate, the government would be "pretty near" its target.

Richard Brook, chief executive of the mental health charity Mind, said: "The problem with the suicide strategy is while its good at looking at risk, it's not good at delivering services.

"There will not be the services for very vulnerable groups, particularly young men."

Jackie Wilkinson, of the Samaritans, said the government's targets were acheivable provided they were backed up by sufficient funding and commitment.

Marjorie Wallace, of the charity Sane, said: "It is not just in prison and hospital that people are taking their lives - far too many are doing so in the first few days and weeks after discharge from hospital when they are most at risk.

"Too many severely ill and depressed people are left unsupported and isolated in the community, with no form of follow-up or consistent care and nowhere to turn."