Suicide is everybody's business. That's why Samaritans is calling for more training for frontline NHS staff to help them to spot vulnerable people before they reach a crisis that might lead to them taking their own lives.
Samaritans believes that offering people support at an early stage would really help to bring down the numbers of suicides. In 2014 more than 6,000 people took their own lives in the UK.*
NHS staff are a brilliant national resource and they provide excellent care. They are usually the first port of call for someone in distress who is not coping - the man or woman showing various symptoms which may spring from emotional distress, which can manifest in all sorts of ways, including as a physical illness.
Giving GPs, nurses and other staff the chance to build their expertise in spotting someone who is struggling and providing the right treatment could bring about a radical change, given how many of us they regularly come into contact with.
To make suicide prevention really count, there needs to be clear leadership and commitment. The efforts at national and local level need to be coordinated to maximise resources and impact. Funding from the Government (national and local), clear timescales and targets are necessary. The recent findings of the Mental Health Taskforce (MHTF) emphasised care and treatment, but multi agency local suicide prevention plans, which galvanise action, are vital too.
The National Suicide Prevention Strategy is now three years old. The Minister for Community and Social Care, Alastair Burt, signalled at the National Suicide Prevention Alliance conference on 2 Feb and elsewhere that the strategy needs to be refreshed to align to new developments, such as the MHTF. This is to be welcomed and Samaritans looks forward to participating.
At a Parliamentary reception held by Samaritans on Tuesday to raise awareness of the need for NHS frontline staff to receive suicide prevention training, I spoke about training being delivered to Hertfordshire GPs as part of the Zero Suicide pilot project in the UK. The three pilots look promising and I hope will provide the stimulus as well as learning on how we need to proceed.
This has been a success: more people have been referred to programmes which tackle depression and anxiety. Now we need to deliver it more widely. It is crucial that we learn from what we get right, and roll it out nationally.
Samaritans also launched the We Listen campaign on Tuesday, with the support of Network Rail and the wider railway industry. Aiming to encourage people struggling to seek help, especially those at risk of suicide on the railways, it emphasised that often people feel compelled to hide the way they really feel , for all sorts of reasons, and that contributes to a groundswell of depression and anxiety which builds up. The campaign demonstrates the role the private sector can play in suicide prevention and the role of a wider set of frontline workers. Over 900 interventions by rail industry staff trained by Samaritans have been made this year alone.
Our campaign posters contrasted what people say: "I'm alright with being single, it's not ideal for the kids but they seem to be coping", with what they really mean: "I'm not coping".
We need health staff to be able to identify those vulnerable people, the same way that railway staff have been trained to intervene to help those at risk of taking their lives on the railway, which has been a central feature of Samaritans' partnership with Network Rail, and we have trained more than 11,000 people since 2010. They regularly make interventions that save lives, and Samaritans believes that this training has a wider remit.
Many MPs, voluntary sector representatives and industry were at the Parliamentary reception, and there was a feeling that there is the will to bring about real change. We all have a role to play and together we can save lives.