Photo courtesy of Alternakive

By Tom Renhard

Recently, there has been an increased focus on tackling mental health stigmas and raising awareness. However, there is another area that often goes unchecked when it comes to open and honest discussions – the issue of suicide and what is being done to prevent it. Therefore, barriers need to be broken down and discussions on ‘tough subjects’ should be normalized.

On 10 September 2012 the new suicide prevention strategy was released by the Department of Health, entitled Preventing suicide in England: A cross-government outcomes strategy to save lives. It sought to achieve ‘a reduction in the suicide rate in the general population in England; and better support for those bereaved or affected by suicide’, with six key areas for action.

1. Reduce the risk of suicide in key high-risk groups

2. Tailor approaches to improve mental health in specific groups

3. Reduce access to the means of suicide

4. Provide better information and support to those bereaved or affected by suicide

5. Support the media in delivering sensitive approaches to suicide and suicidal behaviour

6. Support research, data collection and monitoring.

Many of these areas are similar to the suicide prevention strategy of 2002, but with an increased focus on provisions of support services available for the bereaved. The strategy will be targeting specific groups with a much more tactful approach, this includes members of the LGBT community; people living with long-term physical health conditions; Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups and asylum seekers; people with untreated depression; people misusing drugs or alcohol; and also those vulnerable due to economic and social circumstances, but to name a few.

One issue that has been identified regarding the strategy is that there is a lack of ‘sufficient information about numbers of suicides or about what interventions might be helpful’ for a number of these groups. It would suggest more work needs to be done in the area of community engagement to ensure liberation groups are able to contribute to a strategy that works for all. For this strategy to move forward effectively, it must be taken seriously by the media as well as pro-actively recognising a need for mental health care on the same par as physical health care.

When an individual feels they are unable to talk about their troubles it can often lead to a manifestation of negative feelings. For some people, it can be taken as ‘feeling weak’ by asking for help. Questions are being raised over how this plays out across the genders, as suicide rates for males are three times higher than for females. Is this because we still live in the era of the ‘strong and silent type’ or because there aren’t the same avenues for men to discuss their well-being?

For a number of people mental health issues build up over years. Therefore, an effort to tackle the discussion as early as possible is vitally important. From raising awareness at secondary school level, it will better prepare individuals through the transitional period of their teenage years and beyond. It is during these earlier stages of adulthood when it can be best addressed, from challenging stigmas and tackling cyber-bullying, to having an honest discussion about suicide. With the economic climate as it currently is, now is a time for people to come together within communities, ensuring no one is left behind in the search for greener pastures ahead.

The complete strategy is available to download from the Department of Health’s website.