Working together to prevent suicide

Cllr Paulette Hamilton, cabinet member for health and social care, talks about the importance of working together in every community to prevent suicide, as she asks the city council to endorse the Birmingham Suicide Prevention Strategy.

Suicide is preventable. This is such an important thing to say. It is also very easy to say but rarely a simple issue to deal with and leaves a devastating impact on families, friends and communities. In order to reduce the number of people taking their own lives we need to look at why this happens and who are the most at risk.

Although in Birmingham the rate of suicide has reduced and is the lowest of the core cities and below the England average, we still need to do more. We must look at what it is that drives someone so close to the very edge of despair that they think there is no way back. And what support is out there, how is it accessed and is it right for everyone.

In the words of someone who has been there:

'When I look back over the period of time leading up to my suicide attempt, I realise I actually hit all the ‘high risk’ markers. A holistic approach is needed rather than a ‘tick box’ one. If a person is saying 'no' to thinking of acting on suicidal thoughts, yet all the indicators point to significant risk factors, such as recent abuse or assault, significant depression, a major life circumstance, a history of self-harm including drug misuse, every effort should be made to ensure the safety of that individual. My own personal experience is that I would have benefited from increased input from a community mental health team, a link between mental health and drug misuse teams, my doctor not supplying large quantities of medication on prescription at once and retailers being giving training to be made aware of potentially fatal means being sold.'

This person is anonymous so I don’t know his whole story, but he clearly would have benefited from better mental health support; and the fact he felt unable to talk about it is a huge factor for many people, particularly men. It is heart-breaking that so many people get to this stage, thinking they have no alternative. So there are clearly many issues that need to be addressed, and we must address them collaboratively as a city. This is why the Birmingham Suicide Prevention Strategy is based on a combination of local and national evidence.

We need to work together on every level, in every community, family and workplace and we will be focusing on six key areas, building on the national suicide strategy: reduce the risk in key high-risk groups; tailor approaches to improve mental health in specific groups; reduce access to the means of suicide; provide better support for those affected by suicide; support and encourage sensitive approaches by the media; support research, data collection and monitoring.

Here in Birmingham, in addition to nationally recognised high-risk groups, we have a higher rate of suicide among people in skilled trades such as construction, and also among people from Poland and other eastern European countries.

There are many actions that we can take, such as looking at the mental health of all these high-risk groups as well as focusing on children and young people and how they develop poor mental health. We need to raise awareness with staff working in areas where people are more likely to take their own lives: traffic wardens, park wardens, and reduce the risk of medication stockpiling.

Moving forward the strategy will be implemented using a core set of principles, recognising the inequalities around mental health, ensuring we are ready to learn from each other and keeping citizens at the centre of what we do.

This blog was posted on 8 January 2020.

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