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Public health leaders call for comprehensive approach to suicide prevention

Suicide is an increasingly significant social and public health problem, a parliamentary inquiry has been told.

The Faculty of Public Health (FPH) has told the Health Select Committee’s inquiry into suicide prevention that policymakers and services must address the root causes of suicide – including poverty and social inequalities.

FPH’s submission says community approaches that avoid traditional mental health labelling could help reduce suicide rates.

It also calls for more services for people with mental health issues who misuse drugs or alcohol and for people who do not access mainstream health services on a regular basis.

Such services are cost-effective given the high social and economic cost of suicide, FPH says.

FPH President John Middleton said: "Suicide is a complex social issue, not a medical one. Society – including through public services and policymaking – must help build individual resilience throughout our lives.

"As we set out in our recent major report, Better Mental Health for All, we need a strategic approach to improving mental health. One consequence of such an approach would be fewer suicides."

The FPH submission says that the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis may have contributed to the recent rise in suicides through:

  • the loss of some public and voluntary sector ‘safety net’ services for the most vulnerable
  • higher unemployment and the breakdown of some relationships due to stress.

Noting that suicide rates are higher in poorer areas, FPH’s response says: "Attention must be paid to addressing these root causes of suicide… [by] reducing poverty and social inequalities."

However, it also calls for more emphasis to be placed on the lifelong impact of childhood exposure to violence and abuse. Children and young people, the submission says, need to develop strong and secure networks of support.

John Middleton concludes: "Suicide prevention remains a serious public health priority and FPH encourages local authorities, the NHS and their partners to take local joint action. As citizens we can all do more to check in on family, friends or neighbours who may be going through difficult times. Preventing suicide is everyone's business and organisations and individuals all have a role to play."

Written: 20/09/2016 , last modified: 27/10/2016