THE BLOG

We Have a National Difficulty in Talking About Suicide - But Talking About It Is the First Step to Helping

10/09/2015 09:12 | Updated 09 September 2016

Suicide is an individual tragedy and also a family trauma. It is not only preceded by the sort of intense psychological pain that I find almost impossible to comprehend, but it is also succeeded by the pain of those left behind.

We have a national difficulty in talking about this topic and I understand why. But talking about it is the first step to helping it. In research carried out for Samaritans, only a quarter of people said they would be happy to encourage others to talk about their problems and when asked if they would approach someone who looked upset, three-quarters said they would not.

This year's World Suicide Prevention Day seeks a renewed focus on reaching out to people at risk.

And statistics show that those "people at risk" aren't necessarily people who you'd think of. In fact, it's people like me - a middle-aged man - who are particularly at risk.

In my job putting yourself in someone else's shoes is essential if you're to make decisions which are aimed at helping people. On suicide, not withstanding an increase in young male suicide, the people most at risk are, slightly surprisingly, older people like me.

I have been the minister responsible for mental health since May and I am learning every day. I know that suicide prevention is intimately connected with good mental health support - it isn't something that happens in isolation.

I am working to improve services and tackle the stigma around mental health problems, affecting all in society in any age group. We've increased mental health funding centrally and we expect all local commissioners to increase funding too. I am pleased to say that more and more people are accessing talking therapies and we've introduced treatment targets for mental health so people can get the care they need when they need it - just like in physical health.

We are improving crisis care. Through our Crisis Care Concordat emergency services and health organisations are now working with each other on a local and national level to improve people's experience of mental health crisis care.

In Cheshire and Merseyside they have a vision to establish it as a no suicide region. They aim to support people at a time of personal crisis and build individual and community resilience.

They want to ensure that those experiencing suicidal thoughts receive the same degree of urgent care and resources as someone would receive if they entered hospital for another type of physical complaint.

In Aldershot in Hampshire there is the Safe Haven Project at the Time Out Café, run jointly by the NHS and a local charity. It offers a safe, supportive and therapeutic environment where people experiencing a mental health crisis can go and in Cambridgeshire there is the STOP Suicide campaign which seeks to empower communities and individuals by getting across the message that suicide is 'everybody's business' and that it's okay - and important - to talk about it.

Today I am visiting Samaritans to find out more about their work.

Samaritans is available round the clock, every single day of the year. It provides a safe place for anyone struggling to cope, whoever they are, however they feel, and whatever life has done to them.

Every six seconds they respond to a call for help, by phone, email, text or face to face in one of their 201 branches.

I will also learn more about the work Samaritans and Cruse Bereavement Care (CRUSE) are doing together to offer more support to those bereaved by suicide, with a programme called Facing the Future. Those who have lost a loved one to suicide are themselves more at risk, which is why specialist support is so important.

We are now better than ever before at talking about mental health and I want to thank all those who have told me - and others - their stories and experiences - both good and bad.

Their stories move me and spur me on to do all I can to continue to improve mental health services. I think each and every person involved is providing such care with such commitment.

People looking for support to start a conversation with someone they're worried about can find tips and guidance on Samaritans' website at samaritans.org/wspd or follow Samaritans on Twitter @samaritans, #RUOK or find them on Facebook facebook.com/samaritanscharity.

Alistair Burt is the Minister of State for Community and Social Care and Conservative MP for North East Bedfordshire