The growing conversation around mental health and the anti-suicide work it has helped bring about are “absolutely” factors in deaths falling to a six-year low, The Samaritans have said.
The latest figures show that 3.4% fewer people killed themselves in 2016 - 5,688, down from 5,870 in 2015. It is the lowest suicide rate since 2011.
While suicides fell for both sexes, the fall was far greater for women and men still accounted for three quarters of suicides.
Of the suicides registered in 2016, 4,287 were male and 1,381 were female. The suicide rate fell by 3.1% for males and 9.4% for females, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) said.
Liz Scowcroft, the research manager at suicide prevention charity The Samaritans, told HuffPost UK that suicide prevention was a “bigger focus” now than a few years ago.
When asked whether the growing conversation and awareness around mental health was a factor in the fall, she said: “Absolutely... That will definitely have an impact. People are talking about this more often, much more publicly.
“It’s definitely a bigger focus than it’s been in recent years. We’ve seen an increase in suicide prevention activities.”
She added that the number of councils with a suicide prevention plan in place had gone from 70% to 95% in recent years.
“What we need to do now is make sure everybody has an effective plan,” she added.
Louise Rubin, head of policy and campaigns at Mind, said campaigns about raising help to break down the stigma attached to discussing mental health
She welcomed the rollout of suicide prevention plans but warned there was little information about their quality.
She said: “Every local community must have a comprehensive plan that brings together all relevant local services and agencies involved in supporting people at risk of suicide...
“It is vital for prevention plans to include a strategy for reaching those who are unlikely to ask for help, particularly men.”
She added a significant proportion of suicides were among people who had contact with NHS mental health services, which she said were “underfunded and under-resourced... with dire consequences”.
Rubin said NHS England’s Five Year Forward View for mental health to improve services by 2021 was an opportunity to “get this right, to start building the kind of NHS mental health services that will carry us into the future.
“We need to see the plan delivered in every part of England, and the funding committed as part of it reaching the frontline,” she added.
Statistics for 2015 put the female suicide rate at its highest for a decade but still far lower than for men.
The suicide rate for men rose in the years after the financial crisis began in 2007, reversing years of decline.
A British Journal of Psychiatry study attributed 10,000 extra suicides in Britain, the US and Canada to the recession.
HuffPost UK and anti-male suicide charity CALM published a study into the causes of male suicide last year that showed how men were less likely to open up about their problems and more prone to risk-taking behaviour and frustration at life’s setbacks, like losing a job.
“There’s a time when boys are allowed to cry and then suddenly they’re not allowed to cry any more. You’ve got to be a man,” psychotherapist Damien Ridge said of the survey result at the time.
CALM chief executive Simon Gunning welcomed the fall in male suicides.
He added: “While that provides hope for suicide prevention, it’s clear that gender is still a huge issue and much work is still to be done.
“We continue to tackle male suicide head-on and aim to empower men to express themselves and find support when they need it – among their mates, their families, in the workplace, and in our schools.”
Useful websites and helplines:
Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 UK and ROI (this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill).
Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.
Get Connected is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
HopeLine runs a confidential advice helpline if you are a young person at risk of suicide or are worried about a young person at risk of suicide. Mon-Fri 10-5pm and 7pm-10pm. Weekends 2pm-5pm on 0800 068 41 41.
Maytree is a sanctuary for the suicidal in north London in a non-medical setting. For help or to enquire about a stay, call 020 7263 7070.
Rape Crisis services for women and girls who have been raped or have experienced sexual violence - 0808 802 9999
Survivors UK offers support for men and boys - 0203 598 3898