Luciana Berger: “Let’s take a zero-suicide approach and end suicide for good”
Please note - this article references suicide. Please look after yourself if this is a difficult topic for you to read about.
World Mental Health Day 2019 is focused on preventing suicide – which remains a global public health emergency, causing 800,000 deaths every year worldwide. Here, Luciana Berger, MP for Liverpool Wavertree, calls on government and local authorities to set a target of reducing the number of suicides to zero, so every family is spared of the anguish and heartache caused by suicide.
Suicide is the greatest killer of young men in our country, and the main cause of death for young people aged 15-29 worldwide, which is more than road traffic accidents, substance abuse or even warfare. In the UK, the rate of deaths by suicide among under 25s increased by 23.7%, reaching 730 deaths in 2018.
These numbers are devastating, but the crucial point that we should all be making loud and clear to governments everywhere, not just today but every day, is that suicide is preventable.
There is nothing unreasonable about setting our public health response to this emergency on a target of reducing the number of suicides to zero. In short, government and local authorities should openly state that no-one should die in this way. Every family can be spared the anguish and heartache caused by suicide.
There is always a point when a suicide could have been stopped. So, let us recommit to a zero-suicide approach, and to end suicide for good.
My local NHS organisation Mersey Care adopted a zero-suicide approach in 2015. The policy was built on four pillars – first, all staff have suicide prevention training; second, the Trust engages with its partners such as A&E and GPs and others to co-produce materials; third, they reduce the risk factors for acute patients such as access to medicines; and fourth, Mersey Care collate all the data relating to suicide and attempted suicide to ensure swift improvements in services. These practical steps are making a real difference, and other organisations should adopt a similarly robust approach.
For every NHS Trust to adopt a zero-suicide policy requires investment. Public money should be allocated to suicide prevention within the NHS, prison service, police, social services, armed services, and other agencies and organisations. Public health budgets can’t continue to be raided; our mental health services are stretched to breaking point.
There are plenty of things we as individuals can do too. We can be open about our thoughts and feelings and inculcate a culture of talking about mental health at home, in school, at college and in the workplace. By encouraging an end to mental health stigma, we can shift our public culture towards one of understanding, acceptance and support – a journey we are all on.
This is especially important in the workplace where the pressures of work and financial worries can contribute to depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental illness which sometimes prefigure suicidal thoughts. That’s why I have argued for a requirement for national system of mental health first aiders in every workplace.
It is impossible to say there are ‘causes’ of suicide. But there are often signs in advance, and seismic and pivotal moments such as financial problems, certain types of mental illness, and sudden bereavement. All of us can do more to recognise the pressures on others and provide a sympathetic ear for anyone at risk.
Lastly, I reiterate my plea to news organisations to review their approach to reporting suicide and pledge to do nothing to glamorise, promote or misinform people about suicide. So often the choice of words, the use of images, and the types of story can make a tragic situation much worse and may even encourage others to contemplate suicide. Each and every suicide is preventable. There is always a point when a suicide could have been stopped. So, let us recommit to a zero-suicide approach, and to end suicide for good.
You can take the 20 minute zero suicide prevention training for free at www.zerosuicidealliance.com/training
It may save a life.
Luciana Berger MP
Liberal Democrat MP for Liverpool, Wavertree