Preventing suicide by working together

10 September 2019

Chukumeka MaxwellChukumeka Maxwell

Working with people considering suicide can be complex, including many challenges and requiring multiple approaches.

Every year an estimated 800,000 people lose their life due to suicide and there is much that can be done to prevent this. In recent years there has seen a shift of approach towards ‘working together’ and in a previous blog, I highlighted the benefits of being part of a strong community.

People who are feeling low or suicidal need to know that it is ok to talk about what is going on and having family and friends nearby can make a huge difference. ‘Working together’ is the current theme of World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) and will run until 2020.

In the last year there have been many developments in the work towards preventing suicide in the UK and internationally. In October 2018, the UK became the first country to have a Suicide Prevention Minister when Jackie Doyle-Price was appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Mental health, Suicide Prevention and Patient Safety. The appointment was seen as a huge step in the effort to remove the stigma that surrounds suicide.

The publication of the NHS Long-term Plan re-affirmed the NHS's commitment to make suicide prevention a priority over the next decade. It has pledged to rolling out funding to further Sustainability and Transformation Partnership (STP) areas, implementing a new Mental Health Safety Improvement Programme, as well as rolling out suicide bereavement services across the country. 

A cross-government suicide prevention workplan was also produced to show how the government will work with the NHS, local government and the voluntary sector to reduce the rate of suicide. The National Suicide Prevention Strategy Delivery Group (NSPSDG), comprises of lead policy officials across government and delivery agencies, including the voluntary and charitable sector through the National Suicide Prevention Alliance (NSPA), to track, monitor and report on the implementation of the workplan. 

Within the plan there was an opportunity to look at joint learning and themes to identify potential collaborations. Three overarching themes have been identified:

  • data and information sharing
  • training
  • self-harm.

In addition to the main theme of ‘working together’ there are requirements that:

  • Every local authority puts an effective suicide prevention plan in place.
  • Every mental health trust has a zero-suicide ambition plan for mental health inpatients by the end of 2019.
  • Every prison putting actions in place to reduce suicides and self-harm and improve staff awareness and training.
  • Addressing the specific needs of the highest risk groups, including middle-aged men, with £25 million funding.
  • Improving research on things that can be linked to suicide, such as debt and gambling addiction.

There has been a great focus on building structures of work too. In June 2019 the ‘Ask’ workshop was brought to the UK delivered by Lifeline Workshops Inc. It comes at the same time as the government announced more training for teachers, university and the NHS. We also now have Suicide Prevention Transformation Programme Managers and Regional Mental Health Programme Teams, funded by NHS England and NHS Improvement and Public Health England.

As a result of these plans and work, official data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for 2017 showed that the suicide rate in England has reduced for the third consecutive year and is at its lowest for seven years. The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health set out an ambition to reduce the number of suicides in England by ten per cent by 2020.

By continuing to progress we can start to develop suicide safer towns, cities, schools, workplaces and communities. Suicide prevention is definitely ‘everybody’s business’ whatever our professional line of work or in our private life. We can all do something to help  reduce the amount of suicides by ‘working together’ for the benefit of all.

About the author

Chukumeka Maxwell is an independent registered social worker and founding Director of Action to Prevent Suicide CIC (ATPS). A not-for-profit community interest company whose vision is for a life affirming world free from suicide. They deliver specialist suicide prevention training. Action to prevent Suicide CIC are members of the Devon and Torbay Suicide prevention Alliance (DTSPA) and the National Suicide Prevention Alliance (NSPA). He is a fellow of the School for Social Entrepreneurs (Dartington).

Related Research in Practice for Adults resources

Mental Health Act assessments: Brief Guide

Person-centred approaches to adult mental health: Frontline Briefing

Working with people who self-neglect: Practice Tool (updated 2016)

Related resources

National Suicide Prevention Alliance

Samaritans Suicide Statistics

Suicide safer communities

World Suicide Prevention Day

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