Suicide prevention: from silence to action
Bristol East MP Kerry McCarthy writes for the Voice
I'VE recently been to the Glenside Hospital Museum in Blackberry Hill, to discuss how we can secure its future and expand its work. If you haven’t been, it’s well worth a visit, with fascinating displays on the history of mental health treatment in Bristol, which was something of a pioneer in this field.
We’ve come a long way since the Bristol Lunatic Asylum was established in 1861, but sadly mental health treatment still leaves a lot to be desired, with far too many people not being able to get the help they need when they need it.
At worst, and tragically, this can lead to people feeling there is no way out, other than to take their own lives. The latest Coroner’s statistics show that a record 4,820 people died by suicide last year. The Government has failed to meet its target, set in 2012, of reducing suicides by 10%.
In May I hosted an event, Suicide: Breaking the Silence, which brought together politicians, CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) and Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris of Joy Division/New Order, on the 42nd anniversary of the suicide of their bandmate, Ian Curtis. I hope the amazing attention this event received, from Channel 4 News to the NME, will provide a spur to action.
With the pandemic and now the cost-of-living crisis taking its toll on people’s mental health, I raised this with Boris Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions, asking him to support Labour’s pledge to provide mental health treatment within a month for anyone who needs it.
I also secured a debate in Parliament, in which I argued for a focus on preventing suicide among high-risk groups (like middle-aged men), groups where suicide rates are low but rising (like children and young people) and groups attracting public concern (like students which is, sadly, still an issue for us in Bristol).
Funding helplines, restricting access to the means people use to attempt suicide and cracking down on websites that encourage suicide and self-harm will all help save lives. We also need to think about long-term approaches to addressing risk factors, including addictions, adverse childhood experiences, poverty and trauma.
I know that suicide is complex. No two deaths are the same, and we won’t be able to prevent each crisis overnight. But I do feel the less we shy away from talking about suicide, the quicker we can act and the more lives we can save.
The Government is currently consulting on a suicide prevention strategy and a 10 Year Mental Health Plan; this closes on July 5, and you can find it online at www.gov.uk.
If you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts please contact Samaritans on 116 123 or visit CALM’s website at thecalmzone.net.