The suicide rate in England, Wales and Scotland has gone up after years of steady decline and researchers say they cannot explain the “abrupt” and “unexpected” rise.
According to the Office for National Statistics in 2018 a total of 6,507 suicides were registered in the UK. That is 686 more deaths than in 2017, an 11.8% increase.
Professor Louis Appleby who leads the National Suicide Prevention Strategy for England told Sky News: “The 2018 figures show a rise, an abrupt rise actually after a fall, it was unexpected.
“The 2017 were the lowest figures we ever had so something has changed.”
Professor Appleby warned this rise should not be treated as a crisis but instead needed an appropriate response. And he added that although a number of factors could explain the increase researchers do not why more people are taking their own lives.
“We don’t know at the moment what the explanation is. In England and Wales the standard of proof at inquests for a conclusion of suicide by the coroner has lowered and so if you lower the standard of proof then more people will fall into that standard.
“So part of it is that change in nature of inquest process. But that’s not the only reason. The rise started before that change came in and you can see it in Scotland who didn’t have that.”
There has been a societal change in the way mental health issues are addressed. Celebrities and members of the Royal Family have backed campaigns to encourage more people to talk about the issue.
But that alone may not be enough according to Professor Appleby.
“In the last few years the suicide rate has been falling. We assume the greater openness about suicide was having a benefit, people coming forward and seeking help when needed.
“So it is a surprise that it has now gone up. I think that tells us that talking on its own is not enough, it’s how we talk about mental health and suicide and how we encourage people to look for help.
“We have a whole generation of young people who are far more less embarrassed or ashamed about mental health and it certainly helped young people to talk about mental health but maybe we haven’t help them to learn what to do about mental health and that has to be the next step.”
Men account for almost three quarters of those deaths with 4,903 male deaths compared with 1,604 female deaths in 2018.
But in recent years the number of young women under 25 taking their own life has increased. In 2012 there were 106 suicides but by 2018 that had gone up to 188.
Karen Sykes has suffered a double tragedy losing a husband and daughter to suicide. Ian took his own life in 2015. Beth discovered his body. She killed herself in April this year.
“I think we underestimated the impact of that on Beth and I think it’s far reaching. She really struggled and it’s only after she died we found her diary and some of the things she had written about, flashbacks and about panic attacks, about her feelings of self-worth. She was really struggling and we didn’t actually know how badly.”
Beth was an Occupational Therapist. Her mother said she was in a steady relationship and although she struggled with doubts of anxiety and depression “Beth’s future was good”.
“Mental health is a silent killer, a silent illness. There are a lot more people out there who are really struggling that will never talk about it and never go to their GPs,” says Karen.
We are going to have to change something and drive some changes. Raising awareness, talking about painful situations. It is too easy to shut it out. I think a lot of people bereaved to suicide are ashamed.
“I’ve spoken to people in SOB (Survivors Of Bereavement By Suicide) charity groups and they have not told anyone there. I’m thinking of a little old lady, 82. And her son died and she has never told anyone because she is so ashamed.”
:: Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email email@example.com in the UK. In the US, call the Samaritans branch in your area or 1 (800) 273-TALK.