A scheme that saw doctors refer more patients for mental health treatment, after being given specific training, has been praised by suicide prevention campaigners who say lives have been saved because of it.
Most people who kill themselves are not receiving mental health treatment and the training, provided to doctors in Hertfordshire earlier this year, was praised for giving GPs more confidence in asking people about issues they are often unwilling to discuss with a doctor.
GPs who had been trained under the initiative referred 17% more people to local Wellbeing Services, which provides psychiatric help to those suffering disorders while a group of 100 GPs who did not receive the training actually referred 9% fewer people over five months, compared with five months before the training.
Andy Bell, deputy chief executive at the Centre for Mental Health, told Huffington Post UK the scheme's success was very encouraging, given how crucial GPs are to preventing people's suicides.
He said: "GPs are incredibly important part of suicide prevention. People do go and see their GPs and we know that the confidence they have on mental health, that they don't feel able to bring it up.
"When GPs feel more capable and confident, they can ask the right questions in helpful way. Then, they can support people in the immediate and longer term and feel more comfortable referring those in immediate need of help.”
Mr Bell said: 'What we can say with confidence from anecdotal evidence is that many people have used the training to save lives."
"We also know that sadly, most of those who take their own lives don't have contact with services," he added. "This is about reaching out to people."
A total of 96% of the GPs trained found it useful, 98% found it relevant and 96% rated the content of training as “good or excellent”.
The scheme was among those praised in the report, 'Aiming for Zero Suicides', which looked at initiatives in commissioned and funded by the East of England Strategic Clinical Network, which published the report with the Centre for Mental Health aimed at reducing the number of suicides.
Based on the GP initiative and other training schemes in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Essex, it concludes there is "a very significant need" for more training "across the whole system".
Centre for Mental Health chief executive Sean Duggan said: “The Zero Suicide initiative has prompted a range of creative local responses to suicide prevention.
"They can reach people who would otherwise not get information or training to help to prevent a tragedy. The report shows the potential that can be unleashed by supporting local innovation.
"This needs to be backed up by robust routine data to help build up evidence of what works locally.”
Dr Caroline Dollery, Clinical Director of the East of England Mental Health, said: The impact of suicide is devastating, and taking an ambition like zero suicide has demonstrated the desire of individuals, communities and professionals to improve our approach and reduce the stigma of talking about distress.
"These sites show that when there is real desire to effect change, organisational barriers can be made to come down."