A dedicated support package totalling £1.24 million is being used to strengthen suicide-prevention work across the South West and to provide practical and emotional support to friends and family who have lost a loved one to suicide.
The latest wave of funding from NHS England and NHS Improvement comes as events are held across the South West on World Suicide Prevention Day.
Its significance is reflected in new data showing that the South West has the second-highest suicide rate among men in the nine English regions, with 19.4 deaths per 100,000 in 2019 against 16.7 for England as a whole. (See tables below.)
By contrast, the suicide rate among females in the South West was little over a quarter of that level, with 4.9 per 100,00 in 2019 against 5.2 for England as a whole. The difference between male and female rates is broadly similar nationwide.
One of the main beneficiaries of existing funding in the South West has been the Hope Project, which covers Bristol, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset. The project provides support to men aged 30 to 64 who are experiencing psychological distress, in debt or financial difficulties, or dealing with housing or employment issues, as well as those who have recently self-harmed and are not in touch with other mental health services. Over the last 12 months, the project has supported more than 250 men, significantly more than the original target of 180.
New money this year is being allocated to:
- Devon, for grassroots community initiatives that raise awareness and aim to prevent suicide; training of primary care staff and those working with ‘high risk’ individuals (eg homeless or in debt); in-depth research into suicide and self-harm in Torbay; and promotion of Samaritans’ guidelines on media reporting
- Dorset, for real-time surveillance of suicide and self-harm incidents; support for bereaved families; community investment for high-risk groups; recruitment of those with lived experience to support services; and training in suicide-prevention for frontline staff, including primary care
- Somerset, for multi-agency training in suicide-prevention, especially in reaching out into the wider community as three-fifths of people who take their own live are not known to mental health services; and work focused on middle-aged men and, given the impact of covid, 18-25-year-olds
- Bath, Swindon and Wiltshire, for targeted work with employers, given the likelihood of covid-related job losses; assertive work with individuals to make sure they get the help they need (linked to the Hope Project, above); training for primary care staff; and a review of the way people in crisis are helped;
- Gloucestershire, for small grants to community-based projects; extra social support top engage individuals – especially men – who may not use traditional services; a link worker to support the voluntary and community sectors, to increase wider capacity and help identify people at high risk; and training in crisis care and suicide-prevention for frontline staff, including GPs
Cornwall is also aiming to build on already-funded projects to support people after they have self-harmed; train staff at GP surgeries and in the community in suicide-prevention; fund small bids for local organisations; help children, young people and families learn skills in talking about mental health; invest in wellbeing to prevent people from reaching crisis point and strengthen intervention if there is a crisis; and provide bereavement support for people who have lost loved ones to suicide
Dr Ellen Wilkinson, consultant psychiatrist at Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust with a special interest in suicide-prevention, said: “We know the toll that suicide takes on families across the South West, with men in particular at risk. That’s why we’re so determined to use this new money to push forward with work to help keep people safe – especially given the increased pressure that so many are feeling as a result of the covid pandemic.
“We’ve got helplines in place across the South West, so anybody in crisis can get help. That means we’re here for you, 24 hours a day. This additional funding is more about building wider community support, so fewer people reach that crisis point.”
The funding will help deliver the commitment set out in the NHS Long Term Plan that by 2023/24 every region and system across the country will benefit from the current suicide-prevention programme and have suicide bereavement-support services.