People end their lives for multiple complex and interwoven reasons, but it's deeply troubling that those living in some areas of Britain are more likely to die by suicide than others.
New data released today by the Office of National Statistics revealed that 5,688 people ended their life by suicide in Great Britain in 2016, a fall of 3.4%. This fall is hugely welcome given the devastating impact of suicide on families and communities. However, we cannot be complacent. One death by suicide is still one too many and behind the overall fall lie some troubling national and regional variations.
Although the rate of suicides in England has fallen considerably, and slightly in Wales, there has been a small, but concerning, rise in Scotland. In England, the South West had the highest suicide rate (at 11.2 per 100,000 people), whilst the lowest rate was in London (7.8 per 100,000 people).
These regional variations speak to the fact that suicide is not just an individual decision, but affected by a complex set of factors at community and society level. Research from Samaritans shows that areas of higher socioeconomic levels of deprivation have significantly higher levels of suicide. Men in the lowest social class, living in the most deprived areas are up to ten times more at risk than those in the highest social class, living in the most affluent areas.
But interestingly, the variations in suicide levels do not entirely map against what you might expect. The highest rates of suicide were recorded in the South-West, which as above average house prices and lower levels of deprivation than other parts of the country. The East Midlands and West Midlands are not particularly privileged regions - and yet they had lower suicide rates than the more prosperous South East and East of England.
So why are the Midlands bucking the trend? What is happening in these areas that is stopping people reaching the levels of distress and despair that leads them to take their lives? These differences are a reminder to us that effective action can be taken at local level to prevent suicide.
Local Suicide Prevention Plans will be crucial for tackling the issues we know to be factors in suicide deaths, and especially for supporting disadvantaged groups who are at greatest risk. It is essential that these prevention plans are carried out to a high standard, and we back the Health Select Committee's call for robust quality assurance of the plans, and oversight of their effective implementation. It should be mandatory for local plans to include support for families bereaved by suicide, who face increased risks of suicide from within their families having suffered one bereavement.
There is still much work to do, but the fall in number of suicides over the last year demonstrates that positive action can make the difference. Today, the Mental Health Foundation launched an action plan to tackle Scotland's suicide rates. Together, we are resolved to prevent mental distress and suicide in every community and local area, across the whole of the UK.
If you are in distress or despair, or you are having suicidal thoughts, phone Samaritans on 116 123 (UK); 116 123 (ROI); text 07725 90 90 90 or email email@example.com.